As predicted by many, the Uruguayan presidential elections will be decided in a second round. Results came in slowly this past Sunday, but they eventually confirmed the fate of the presidential candidates of the country’s two major parties: the ruling Broad Front and the National Party.

Exit polls determined Tabaré Vázquez of the Broad Front party earning 44-46 percent of the vote, while Luis Lacalle Pou of the National Party attracted 31-36 percent.[1] Although Vázquez won the highest percentages, Pedro Bordaberry, the Colorado Party’s candidate who finished in third place with only 14 percent of the vote, immediately endorsed Lacalle Pou after the first round.[2]

The second round, that is taking place on Sunday, November 30, will give Vazquez and Lacalle just over a month to make political alliances, such as Bordaberry’s endorsement of Lacalle, and allow them to obtain the support of the majority of Uruguayans eligible to vote. Nevertheless, the results of the first round demonstrate that neither candidate has a decisive advantage.

A Brief Overview

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).

Outgoing president José Mujica. Photo: WikimediaThe two parties that prevailed this past weekend, as expected, were the Broad Front and the National Party.[3] Vázquez, with running mate Raul Sendic, represent the Broad Front party, which is an alliance of leftist parties and progressive wings of traditional parties. Vázquez, who was president between 2005-2010, is running for his second term and is backed by current President, Jose “Pepe” Mujica.[4] Mujica has been quoted as saying he is very confident that the Broad Front party will once again win this election period and prolong its decade-long control of the country.[5] Although Mujica is clearly confident in the Broad Front’s candidate, there is the possibility that the right-leaning Lacalle Pou and running mate Jorge Larranaga will have the upper hand. [6] This is especially true after gaining the endorsement of the Colorado Party’s Bordaberry.

Mujica’s Legacy

Mujica’s public endorsement of Vázquez 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 transforming the status quo by carrying out groundbreaking policies such as legalizing abortion, same sex marriage, and marijuana has defied orthodoxy.[7] Although there are some who have become crestfallen with such radical social reforms. “’So we are killing babies now and the state will sell marijuana,’ said Adriana Herrera, a 68-year-old pensioner. ‘My frustration is not just with the handout policies but also with the laws that have been approved that are terrible for the country.’”[8] Since the Broad Front came to power in 2005, Uruguay has enjoyed a relatively tranquil economy thanks to its attention to the social needs and institutional reforms as well as a business-friendly investment model. While the party has obviously not escaped critique, some believe it has failed to confront problems such as education, security, and environmental protection, they certainly have at least some boasting rights; thanks to the governance of the Broad Front’s two presidents, Uruguay earned the title of Country of the Year by The Economist in 2013. However in spite of international recognition, concern by the general population over unsolved issues like controlling inflation and internal security means that undecided Uruguayans could vote for Lacalle Pou in hopes of a new party addressing the said areas.

Leading up to this past Sunday, the candidates engaged in the standard presidential campaign promises. Vazquez pledged to further increase the quality of life of every Uruguayan citizen by transforming its health care model and increasing education spending.[9] On the other hand, Congressman Lacalle Pou, the son of former President Luis Lacalle (1990-1995), is known and respected for his widespread economic reforms.[10] For Lacalle Pou, the candidate’s 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.[11] Lacalle Pou prioritizes education, national security, and infrastructure.[12] 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 may hold the key to which candidate emerges victorious in November. The question seems to come down to which political party will be able to capture their interest (and votes especially) concerning key topics such as economic and education reform; as 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.”[13] 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.”[14]

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.”[15] Rosario Queirolo, an expert on public opinion and politics at the Catholic University of Uruguay, argues 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.”[16] The sustainability of the current model is insecure because of the prices of resources are falling and maybe increasingly thought of as tired.

Leader in Latin America, But Not The World

As the candidates are addressing Uruguay’s areas of concern are high social spending, education, and boosting the economy. Though, comparably the country’s problems are not insurmountable. Uruguay currently has the lowest inequality rate in Latin America, followed by Chile and Argentina, but when examined on a global scale, Uruguay, ranking number 41, and Latin America as a whole suffer from some of the worst levels of inequality.[17] Heraldo Muñoz, United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) director for Latin America, reports the awareness of this issue directly, “Our region is the most unequal in the world…inequality has a negative impact on people, the economy, and society as a whole…which is why we believe that inequality should be a political priority in the agenda of the region’s countries.”[18] Through the awareness of the problem and the actions of various Latin American governments there is good news. As a result of economic growth, such as that seen in Uruguay, and favor paid to left-leaning governments, the inequality gap is closing. The U.N.’s Heraldo Muñoz speaks to the two ingredients that are leading to this change; economic growth moving more people into the labor force and universal access to primary and secondary education.[19] According to the GINI Coefficient (0 = perfect equality, 1= maximal inequality) Latin American has moved from its peak at .58 in 1996 to its lowest level recorded ever of .52 in 2011.[20] Mujica directly contributes to fighting the inequality problem by donating 90 percent of his annual income to poverty, although this is not a trait that has been seen in previous or can be readily expected in future leaders. The next Uruguay Head of State is inheriting a country that is in an ideal position to continue to improve its hemispheric and world position.

Inevitable Change

Mujica is constitutionally barred from running for president again although he does not plan on leaving politics all together as the departing president will stay very active in Congress. Mujica benefited from having a Broad Front majority in Congress to push his agenda; but whoever emerges victorious as president on November 30 will not have this same luxury. This past Sunday, Uruguay also voted for their lawmakers.[21] According to reports, the Broad Front has won 15 out of 31 seats in Congress. In Uruguay, the country’s vice president also has a vote in Congress. If Vázquez does win, the Broad Front could have 16 senatorial seats altogether, which will make his law passing abilities easier. As for the House of Representatives, final results are not available as deputies are elected per department.[22]

Unsurprisingly the international community was focused on the Brazilian run off that occurred last Sunday as well. Nevertheless, Uruguay has proven that its own elections deserve the same caliber of international coverage and attention. Next month, two million voters will make a decision between a party with a decade-worth of experience and knowledge, and a party with a new progressive outlook for the future.

Main picture by: Andres Stapff, Taken from: http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/10/26/vazquez-tops-uruguaypresidentialvotebutfacesrunoff.html

Westanna Carleton is a Research Associate at LAB Partner COHA, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

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.

[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-29775819 [2] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/27/us-uruguay-election-idUSKBN0IF04E20141027 [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] Uruguay gears up for ‘unpredictable’ election, October 21, 2014, http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/172620/uruguay-gears-up-for-‘unpredictable’-election [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] PRESIDENT JOSÉ MUJICA, A LATIN AMERICAN POLITICAL PIONEER,October 21, 2014, http://www.coha.org/president-jose-mujica-a-latin-american-political-pioneer/ [8] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/27/us-uruguay-election-idUSKBN0IF04E20141027 [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] 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 [11] 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 [12] 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 [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/ [15] 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 [16] Close election race for Uruguay’s president, October 21, 2014, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/a-close-election-race-for-uruguays-president/article21216681/ [17] http://en.mercopress.com/2010/11/09/in-the-most-unequal-region-uruguay-has-highest-human-development-index [18] http://en.mercopress.com/2010/11/09/in-the-most-unequal-region-uruguay-has-highest-human-development-index [19] http://www.nearshoreamericas.com/infographic-income-inequality-latin-america/ [20] http://www.nearshoreamericas.com/infographic-income-inequality-latin-america/ [21] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/27/us-uruguay-election-idUSKBN0IF04E20141027 [22] http://www.elpais.com.uy/informacion/cifra-fa-gana-balotaje-mayoria-senado.html

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