The biggest surprise of Uruguay’s run-off election was the torrential storm that hit the small Southern Cone nation and produced a slow trickle to the polls throughout the first half of Sunday. With voting mandatory in the country, most voters made it to the ballot box before night fell, helping elect Tabaré Vázquez to a second, nonconsecutive presidential term with 53.6 percent of the vote.
Vázquez served his first term from 2005-2010 as the country’s first president from the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) party. He left the presidency with incredibly high popularity ratings and was succeeded by José Mujica, of the same party. Now Vázquez has returned to office.
Under what will now extend to three terms of the Frente Amplio leading the country, Uruguay has enjoyed incredible economic growth while keeping unemployment, currently at approximately 6.7 percent, at historic lows. The relative economic success of the country has maintained the party’s popularity, as voters continue electing its candidates to majorities in Parliament and to the presidency.
Vázquez, a 74-year old doctor, ran against Luis Lacalle Pou, who is more than thirty years younger. In one of the stranger moments of the campaign, Lacalle Pou attempted to highlight the difference in age and promote his youth as an asset by performing gymnastics and challenging Vázquez to do the same. The challenge was not accepted, but in the end, the lack of acrobatics did not seem to make a difference in the campaign.
In the first round of voting on October 26, Vazquez received 47.9 percent of the total vote and Lacalle Pou, the Blanco party’s candidate, got 31 percent. The Colorado party’s Pedro Bordaberry was eliminated after garnering only 13 percent of the vote. Despite polls showing a closer race before the first round of voting in October, the Frente Amplio surprised many Uruguayans by falling just short of an outright majority, just barely missing the percentage needed to avert a run-off with the younger opponent.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, the excitement and energy that had surrounded the first round largely petered out as most voters felt it was a foregone conclusion Vázquez would win. The big gap of the first round held steady heading into the run-off, with polls showing Vázquez with a comfortable 14-point lead just before Sunday’s election.
In Parliament, the Frente Amplio will take 50 of 99 seats in the Lower House. In the Senate, with Raul Sendic as the Vice President and head of the legislative body, the leftist party will now have 16 of the 30 seats there and therefore enjoy a majority in both bodies. The popular outgoing president, José Mujica, was elected to the Senate in October and will likely remain a powerful voice in the government from the legislative body.
Lacalle Pou had virulently opposed many of the Frente Amplio’s social policies, and vowed to repeal the country’s groundbreaking marijuana law. Implementation of the legislation has been slow and, although Vázquez might modify certain small aspects of the legislation, the law is likely to move forward. The biggest issues facing Vázquez as he retakes office will be education woes and continuing insecurity — the voters’ top two concerns and issues that he will have to address when he takes the presidential oath again in March 2015.
Vazquez has maintained that when he is re-sworn in as president, his first initiatives will include governmental decentralization to empower municipal governments, increasing digital literacy through strategies that include giving tablets to each retiree in the country, introducing a national housing plan to help families at risk of exclusion, controlling inflation, investment in infrastructure and a public safety plan to combat crime.
Uruguay has garnered major international attention in recent years for its progressive policies, and Mujica was an internationally renowned figure for his humble lifestyle and revolutionary past. With a little less flair, Vázquez will return to office hoping to continue the Frente’s policies and address many of these major issues facing the country today.