Tabaré Vázquez, Uruguay’s ruling leftwing coalition candidate, failed to secure enough votes to win the presidential election outright on Sunday, sending the contest to a second round run-off on November 30, according to exit polls.
Although the Broad Front coalition, which was first led to power in 2005 by Mr Vázquez, has presided over a decade of stability and economic growth, slashing poverty rates, Uruguayans are displaying growing discontent with the government, in an echo of Brazil’s presidential elections.
Nevertheless, the narrow victory on Sunday of Brazil’s leftist leader, Dilma Rousseff, is expected to favour the 74-year-old Mr Vázquez in the second round vote, in which he will face 41-year-old conservative Luis Lacalle Pou.
Exit polls show that Mr Vázquez, a former oncologist, won between 44 and 46 per cent of the vote, while Mr Lacalle Pou, a lawyer and the son of a former president during the 1990s, received 31-33 per cent.
They will now fight over the votes won by the candidate in third place, Pedro Bordaberry, the son of another former president and dictator in the 1970s. But his endorsement of Mr Lacalle Pou on Sunday night could contribute to a tighter race.
José “Pepe” Mujica, the popular outgoing president, is prevented by the constitution from standing for a second consecutive term. He implemented a series of progressive social policies that won praise abroad – such as the legalisation of cannabis, same-sex marriage and abortion – but were disapproved of by many conservative Uruguayans.
With broad consensus between the different parties on economic policy, the campaign was fought over issues such as education and security, with rising crime representing the biggest concern for Uruguayans even though the country is one of the region’s safest.
While Mr Vázquez has pledged to continue the government’s mix of broadly pro-market policies coupled with strong social policies, Mr Lacalle Pou, who favours less state participation in the economy, has campaigned on a platform of change.
For example, he has pledged to water down cannabis legislation, removing the state’s role in the production and sale of marijuana, although he would still allow consumers to grow the plants themselves.
Whoever wins the election will inherit a slowing economy, with growth forecast to be about 3 per cent this year, down from an average of 5.7 per cent over the past decade. Still, it remains considerably stronger than neighbours Argentina and Brazil.
The next president is also expected to enjoy less power than Mr Mujica, with pollsters expecting the Broad Front to lose its congressional majority after Uruguayans also voted for 30 senators and 99 deputies on Sunday, and so clearing the way for more consensual politics.
In a parallel referendum, voters also rejected lowering the age at which criminals can be prosecuted from 18 to 16.
Source: Financial Times