Tabaré wins big in Uruguay race
Ruling party candidate fails to win outright, Bordaberry declares support for second-placed Lacalle Pou
MONTEVIDEO — Left-leaning former President Tabaré Vázquez won the most votes in Uruguay’s presidential election yesterday, but fell short of the outright majority he needed to avoid a November 30 runoff, exit polls said.
Three polls indicated that Vázquez, 74, the candidate of the outgoing president’s Broad Front coalition, would face challenger Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, 41, of the centre-right National Party in a second-round vote.
“I want to thank all Broad Front activists. It was them who made it possible for us to be once again the most voted political party in Uruguay,” he said during a televised speech.
However, aware of the challenge ahead, the former president declared that a new stage in the election begins today.
“We need to go to the runoff. We all know the electoral campaign is long and boring, but we will face this new stage of the electoral process in the race for the presidency,” Vázquez added among applause from supporters.
Vázquez, who was president in 2005-10, would end up with around 44 percent or 45 percent of the vote, against 31 percent to 33 percent for Lacalle Pou, polls predicted yesterday. Pedro Bordaberry of the Colorado Party came in a distant third, with 13 to 14 percent of the votes.
Almost as soon as exit polls were released, Bordaberry announced on Twitter that he will back Lacalle Pou in the runoff.
“Uruguay needs a change in education and security. In order to secure these changes — and without asking for anything in return, as always — I will work for (the candidacy of National Party leader) Luis Lacalle Pou,” Bordaberry wrote on his Twitter account.
“Thanks to the thousands of supporters,” he added.
Uruguayans also voted for lawmakers, and exit polls predicted the Broad Front could get a simple majority in Congress, although this will need to be confirmed by official results.
As Uruguay’s first Socialist president, Vázquez was the first person to break 170 years of control by the long dominant Colorado and National parties.
He pursued moderate economic policies that helped Uruguay outpace neighbours while improving life for the poor. He left office with high popularity ratings that put his party’s candidate, José Mujica, in the president’s office.
Mujica, who was barred by the Constitution from running for a second consecutive term, remains popular after steering Uruguay through a period of economic growth and rises in wages. He also gained worldwide notice for social reforms such as the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage. But critics say his administration failed to deal with problems in education, security and environmental protection — all pillars of his presidential agenda.
Lacalle Pou campaigned on a promise to tackle rising crime, improve education and modify the law that Mujica spearheaded to create the world’s first national marketplace for legal marijuana. Although he would still allow consumers to grow pot plants at home for personal use, he said he would end the government’s role in the production and sale of marijuana.
Rising crime has raised security concerns among the South American nation’s 3.2 million citizens. In education, Uruguay’s students test among the worst in the world for mathematics, science and reading comprehension.
Voters also cast ballots in a plebiscite yesterday on whether to reform the Constitution to lower the age a person can be criminally charged as an adult from 18 to 16. Exit polls show the reform was rejected but official results have yet to be announced.
Uruguay’s US$55-billion economy has grown an average 5.7 percent annually since 2005. The government forecasts lower growth of three percent this year, higher than its neighbours Argentina and Brazil.
The number of Uruguayans living in poverty has fallen sharply to 11.5 percent from more than a third in 2006.
“I want to stick with the Broad Front that ensures success,” said Soledad Fernandez, a 27-year old student. “Vázquez and Mujica looked after vulnerable people.”
Lacalle Pou’s supporters argue it is time for change. They say the surfing enthusiast and father of three is more in touch with Uruguay today than the Socialist old-guard and that he brings a fresh face to Uruguayan politics. Vázquez is 74-years-old.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the River Plate, politicians took to social media to express themselves on the provisional results.
“The victory by Tabaré Vázquez and Raúl Sendic in Uruguay... proves that the majority of people are grateful for inclusion policies that aim toward economic distribution, the broadening of rights and democratic freedoms,” said Socialist (PS) party lawmaker Jorge Rivas, a Kirchnerite ally. “Despite the intense campaign carried out by large media outlets, people cannot be fooled to the point of leaving their fate in the hands of the Right.”
UNEN presidential hopeful Hermes Binner chose a more moderate approach.
“Congratulations #TabaréVazquez on your victory! Uruguay maintains the path towards progress and Latin American union,” Binner wrote on his Twitter account.
Another UNEN member, provincial lawmaker Alfredo Lazzeretti, posted a Twitter photo from Uruguay.
“Exciting celebrations on the 18 de Julio (Avenue) in Montevideo! A great victory for Tabaré and the Broad Front — 48 percent,” Lazzeretti said.
Parliamentary Relations Secretary Oscar González took the chance to express his “full support” for the Tabaré-Sendic ticket in the face of next month’s runoff between Lacalle Pou and representatives of the ruling party.
Herald with AP
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