Uruguay is set to hand the ruling left-wing Broad Front movement a third consecutive term in office as a reward for overseeing a decade of huge economic expansion and steadily diminishing inequality.
The front's presidential candidate Tabaré Vázquez is the clear favourite to win Sunday's run-off after falling just short of an outright majority in last month's first round of voting. Opinion polls during the last week of the campaign showed him on course to win 55 per cent of the vote with his opponent Luis Lacalle Pou of the right-wing National Party trailing with just over 40 per cent.
The front is also expected to add control of the senate to that of the lower house, which it secured in last month’s voting. Since 2005, when it broke a duopoly on power by the country’s two traditional parties lasting almost two centuries, the Front has come to dominate Uruguayan politics. As well as congress it now controls 15 of the country’s 19 departmental governments, expanding its influence from its base in the capital
into small towns and rural regions.
Lacalle Pou has been endorsed by his party’s historic rivals the Colorados, but in the first round the combined vote of the two parties was less than that won by the front, leaving him with an uphill task.
Vázquez has already served a term as president, having been the first leader from the Front sworn into the office in 2005. A doctor from the Socialist Party he famously continued to attend patients while in power.
Denied by law an immediate second term he was succeeded by former guerrilla leader José Mujica. In a region beset by political corruption Mujica went on to win cult status in neighbouring
for his simple lifestyle, which sees him drive to work at the presidential palace in his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
Under the two men Uruguay’s economy has quadrupled in size thanks to global demand for its agricultural commodities and policies designed to boost inflows of foreign investment, and Vázquez has committed to keeping economic growth above 3 per cent a year should he return to the presidency.
One of his main proposals is to drive implementation of a new national care system that will expand and modernise public services for children and retired people. He has called the new system “profoundly revolutionary” and the principle challenge of a third Front government.
Lacalle Pou has sought to run a positive campaign, promising to maintain many of the Front’s policies. Aged 41, he has presented himself as a fresh face from a younger generation than that of Mujica and Váquez, aged 79 and 74 respectively. But as the son of a former president he is identified by many Uruguayans as a member of the country’s old political elite.
Vázquez has spent many of the final weeks of the campaign in the interior in what analysts say is a bid to maximise his vote and thus boost his authority within the Broad Front, where Mujica’s Movement of Popular Participation remains the largest single component.
A diverse coalition which includes Christian Democrats, socialists and communists as well as the former Tupamaro guerrillas of the MPP, the Front decides policy through high levels of internal debate and democracy.
Parties, not persons
“In Uruguay it is parties and not persons who govern,” says political scientist Adolfo Garcé of the University of the Republic in Montevideo. “Rather than a second Vázquez administration this will be the third Broad Front government with a high level of continuity. What changes there are will be less to do with a change of president but rather an evolution in the front’s internal debates.”
That means that, despite his personal reservations, Vázquez is unlikely to reverse the legalisation of marijuana approved by Mujica. The law, which would see Uruguay become the first country whose government will oversee the legal production and sale of the drug, remains controversial and Lacalle Pou has promised to gut it should he win.
As well as marijuana, the Front has also legalised abortion and same-sex marriage, consolidating Uruguay’s position as South America’s most progressive society.