Uruguay Elections: A Close Race Anticipated but a Vazquez Victory a Near Certainty

By: Westanna Carleton, Research Associate agh the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

This Sunday, October 26, a significant change could occur in Uruguay. General elections are being held in the country and the only certainty is that the first round of voting will lead to a run off. According to Uruguay’s electoral laws, if no candidate wins over 50 percent of the vote, a second round election will be staged between the two most popular candidates, as determined by the first round, should occur. This time a run off is highly likely, which would then occur on November 30th.

Currently there are four parties that are represented in the country’s two-chamber Congress, the ruling Broad Front (FA, Frente Amplio), National Party (PN, Partido Nacional), Colorado Party (PC, Partido Colorado), and Partido Independente (Independent Party). The two parties that will most likely prevail in the upcoming presidential race, out of these four, are the Broad Front and the National Party.[1] Tabare Vazquez, with running mate Raul Sendic, represents the Broad Front party, which is an alliance of leftist parties and progressive wings of traditional parties. Vazquez, who was president between 2005-2010, is running for his second term representing the same party as the likely incumbent to be and is in fact backed by current President, Jose “Pepe” Mujica.[2] Mujica has been quoted as saying he is very confident that the Broad Front party will once again win these upcoming elections and prolong its control of the country since 2005.[3] Although Mujica is clearly confident in the Broad Front’s candidate, there is a slight possibility that the right-leaning National Party’s Luis Lacalle Pou and running mate Jorge Larranaga, will have the upper hand.[4]

Mujica’s public endorsement of Vazquez is significant as the current head of state is very popular as he prepares to leave office in 2015. His sense of modesty along with has transforming the status quo by carrying out groundbreaking policies defying orthodoxy such as legalizing abortion, same sex marriage and marijuana.[5] In addition, Vazquez, a former doctor, has claim to be the first leftist Uruguayan president to win over a two party system that had ruled for 150 years.[6]

Since the Broad Front came to power in 2005, Uruguay has had a relatively tranquil economy thanks to its attention to the social needs and institutional reforms as well as a business-friendly investment model. The Broad Front party can boast that status thanks to its time in office, Uruguay earned the title of Country of the Year by The Economist in 2013.

As for the standard presidential campaign promises, Vazquez has pledged to further increase the quality of life of every Uruguayan citizen by potentially changing its health care model and increasing education spending.[7] On the other hand, Congressman Lacalle Pou who represents the National Party, is the son of former President Luis Lacalle (1990-1995). Luis Lacalle is known and respected for his widespread economic reforms.[8] For Lacalle Pou, the candidates electoral tag line is “action, not reaction” and his campaign team is promoting the youthfulness of the 41-year-old candidate as well as his emphasis on the reorganization of the system rather than apprehension over the status quo.[9] Lacalle Pou prioritizes education, national security, and infrastructure.[10] The National Party has declared that it is prepared to build on Mujica’s reforms but will reinforce and strengthen them following the party’s own priorities and ideology.

The middle class, especially the university middle class, is a growing population in Uruguay that holds a lot of decision-making power when it comes to the details surrounding the upcoming elections. The question seems to come down to which political party will be able to capture their interest (and votes) concerning key topics such as economic and education reform. The population’s main interest is continuing the economic growth that the country has enjoyed in recent years. The path the Broad Front party has taken the nation is “orthodox macroeconomic management with government intervention, state-directed resources and direct transfer payments to constituents.”[11] Nevertheless, electing Vazquez (again) does not mean an automatic continuation of Mujica’s policies as “he is in many ways Mr. Mujica’s opposite: He is a lawyer who lives in a posh gated community, went to private school, is bilingual and wears sharp suits.”[12] Alternatively, the opposition the National Party hopes to “reduce the role of the state, creating conditions for investment-led growth and in opening economies through greater trade expansion.”[13] Rosario Queirolo, an expert on public opinion and politics at the Catholic University of Uruguay, speaks of Lacalle Pou that “the opposition is doing a great job of capturing dreams. Because Lacalle Pou is young and has surrounded himself with technocrats, with education and economic experts, he is selling himself as pragmatic.”[14] The sustainability of the current model is insecure because of the prices of resources are falling and maybe increasingly thought of as tired.

These upcoming elections in the tiny South America nation have produced some potential wild card scenarios and facts to keep in mind while the polls are open. First, there are 20,000 Uruguayans living in Argentina who are registered to vote on Sunday. However, because the polls have not surveyed these voters, there could be last minute changes to predicted percentages. Second, political parties in Uruguay must adhere to the gender quota law passed in 2009, although some are trying to dodge it. The law states that one in every three candidates must be female. In a country with a population of around three and a half million people, where women make up 52 percent of the population, there is potential for success with the party that shows the greatest strategic thinking for this aspect of the legislature rather than trying to fake the numbers on their ballot. Lastly, although Mujica is constitutionally barred from running for president again, he will not be leaving politics all together. The president plans on staying very active in Congress. Mujica benefited from having a Broad Front majority in Congress to push his agenda. But even if Vazquez wins the presidency, he may not have an easy time governing, like Mujica did, as the Broad Front is not expected to have an overwhelming win or control either congressional chamber after Sunday.

Unsurprisingly the international community is very interested in the outcome of the presidential runoff in Brazil, which will also occur on Sunday October 26. Nevertheless, Uruguay has proved that its own elections deserve the same caliber of international coverage and attention. On Sunday, two million voters are expected to make a decision between a party with a decades worth of experience and knowledge, or a party with a new progressive outlook on the future

 Picture taken from: http://lapostanoticias.com.uy/nacionales/interconsult-lacalle-pou-aventaja-vazquez-en-balotaje/

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to: LatinNews.com and Rights Action.

References

[1] Uruguay gears up for ‘unpredictable’ election, October 21, 2014, http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/172620/uruguay-gears-up-for-‘unpredictable’-election

[2] Elections in Uruguay: Who Are the Main Candidates?, October 21, 2014, http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Elections-in-Uruguay-Who-Are-the-Main-Candidates-20141016-0021.html

[3] Uruguay gears up for ‘unpredictable’ election, October 21, 2014, http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/172620/uruguay-gears-up-for-‘unpredictable’-election

[4] Elections in Uruguay: Who Are the Main Candidates?, October 21, 2014, http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Elections-in-Uruguay-Who-Are-the-Main-Candidates-20141016-0021.html

[5] PRESIDENT JOSÉ MUJICA, A LATIN AMERICAN POLITICAL PIONEER,October 21, 2014, http://www.coha.org/president-jose-mujica-a-latin-american-political-pioneer/

[6] Elections in Uruguay: Who Are the Main Candidates?, October 21, 2014, http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Elections-in-Uruguay-Who-Are-the-Main-Candidates-20141016-0021.html

[7] Elections in Uruguay: Who Are the Main Candidates?, October 21, 2014, http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Elections-in-Uruguay-Who-Are-the-Main-Candidates-20141016-0021.html

[8] Uruguay’s Election a Choice Between Two Models for Economic Growth, October 21, 2014, http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/14237/uruguay-s-election-a-choice-between-two-models-for-economic-growth

[9] Elections in Uruguay: Who Are the Main Candidates?, October 21, 2014, http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Elections-in-Uruguay-Who-Are-the-Main-Candidates-20141016-0021.html

[10] Elections in Uruguay: Who Are the Main Candidates?, October 21, 2014, http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Elections-in-Uruguay-Who-Are-the-Main-Candidates-20141016-0021.html

[11] Uruguay’s Election a Choice Between Two Models for Economic Growth, October 21, 2014, http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/14237/uruguay-s-election-a-choice-between-two-models-for-economic-growth

[12] Close election race for Uruguay’s president, October 21, 2014, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/a-close-election-race-for-uruguays-president/article21216681/

[13] Uruguay’s Election a Choice Between Two Models for Economic Growth, October 21, 2014, http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/14237/uruguay-s-election-a-choice-between-two-models-for-economic-growth

[14] Close election race for Uruguay’s president, October 21, 2014, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/a-close-election-race-for-uruguays-president/article21216681/

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