ASUNCION Paraguay's President Horacio Cartes said on Monday he would not be a candidate in next year's election in order to preserve stability in the South American nation, regardless of whether Congress passed an amendment to allow second terms.
In a letter to the Archbishop of Asuncion that was shared on Twitter, Cartes, a former soft-drink and tobacco executive, said his decision not to run was inspired by Pope Francis's call for peace and dialogue in Paraguay.
Protesters set fire to Congress On March 31 after the Senate secretly voted in favour of the amendment, and police later stormed an opposition political party and killed a protester. The lower house has not yet voted on the proposal.
Investors favour Cartes's low-tax policies and credit him with spurring one of the fastest economic growth rates in Latin America, but business groups had urged him not to seek another term in order to avoid more riots in the world's No. 4 soy exporter.
"I hope this gesture of renunciation will result in a deeper dialogue aimed at strengthening the republic," Cartes's letter said.
Paraguay's constitution has prohibited second terms since it was passed in 1992 after a brutal dictatorship fell in 1989. Many citizens in the land-locked nation of 6.8 million, long one of South America's poorest, are fiercely opposed to any sign of trying to hold on to power.
Senator Lilian Samaniego of Cartes's Colorado Party said the president's allies would continue to seek approval from the lower house, though a popular referendum would be required for reelection to be implemented.
However, Pedro Alliana, the head of the Colorado Party, said the house was now unlikely to vote in favour of the proposal.
"If he (Cartes) is not a candidate, I can assure you that the chance of the amendment passing in the lower house are minimal, practically impossible," said Alliana.
Changing the constitution without Cartes on the ballot would benefit former leftist President Fernando Lugo, who Congress ousted in 2012. His speedy impeachment on the grounds he failed to maintain social order following a bloody land eviction was criticized abroad.
Cartes, a political neophyte who said he had never voted in an election before casting a ballot for himself, was elected to a five-year term in 2013.
Without Lugo or Cartes there are currently few clear candidates for next year's election.
(Reporting by Daniela Desantis, writing by Caroline Stauffer; Editing by Bernard Orr and Andrew Hay)