Tabare Vazquez poised to reclaim Uruguayan presidency

Result opens way for coalition to roll out pioneering marijuana law

Uruguayans voted on Sunday for a new president, with former leader Tabare Vazquez poised to reclaim his old job, opening the way for the ruling leftist coalition to roll out its pioneering marijuana law.

Voting kicked off slowly as storms pounded the country but for many the result was already clear. Opinion polls show Vazquez (74), who was president from 2005 to 2010, trouncing Luis Lacalle Pou of the centre-right National Party by 14 percentage points.

A Vazquez win would see him replace his close ally, Jose Mujica, and ensure a continuation of the Broad Front’s mix of pro-business policies and welfare programmes that spurred a decade of strong growth after the deep crisis of the early 2000s.

“The country has changed for the better, we are past the days when people were leaving or children had to eat grass,” said Demetrio Stavrinakis (82), who like Mujica was a political prisoner during Uruguay’s 1973-1985 military dictatorship.

“Today I see those dreams we once had have become reality and am overwhelmed with emotion,” he added.

Vazquez closed his first term with approval ratings hitting 70 per cent but, like Mujica now, was barred by the constitution from seeking a second consecutive term.

If he makes a successful return, Vazquez, a respected oncologist, has promised to see through the legalisation of the commercial production and sale of marijuana, although he might make some changes to how it is implemented.

The law was passed late last year and aims to wrest the drug trade from illegal gangs.

Lacalle Pou has threatened to repeal much of the reform, which two in three Uruguayans oppose. – (Reuters)