Who will win Uruguay’s presidential election on Sunday?

BOGOTA, Colombia

Almost 2.7 million eligible Uruguayans are going to polls on Sunday to elect the replacement of Tabare Vasquez as president of the Latin American nation.

Although this is a smaller election in size compared to other democracies, recent popular protests in some South American countries and the determination of Uruguayan right wing parties to return to power after 15 years, could leave this election with a photo finish end.

Although the leftist party Frente Amplio (FA), who has ruled the country for 15 years has succeeded in reducing poverty from 40% to 9% and has advocated human rights, while the right-wing has new actors that have changed the political environment.

The last polls suggest that Daniel Martinez (62) from FA is the favorite candidate out of 11 who are vying for the presidency.

Martinez, an engineer, has worked as CEO of Ancap (state oil company), and Industry, Energy and Mining Minister. 38% of voters say they will vote for him.

He politically represents the continuity of Vasquez and former President Jose ‘Pepe’ Mujica (2010 to 2015). Despite Mujica’s reputation in Latin America, surveys found that almost 40% of Uruguayans have a negative image of him and had become a polarizing figure.

Martinez has a liberal agenda in line with his predecessors like the right to abortion, equality in marriage, and cannabis legalization. But for his opponents, he is more of the same.

The second favorite is the candidate of the right National Party (PN in Spanish), Luis Lacalle Pou. Lawyer and senator, Lacalle is the son of former President Luis Alberto Lacalle, who ruled Uruguay from 1990 to 1995.

With 27% support from voters, Lacalle advocates for the reduction of state spending and always referring to a budget deficit that the left party must have to recognize.

Lacalle, 46, also has the support of ultraconservative evangelical bench that demands an end to the left mandate.

As Lacalle, other candidates from the right-wing parties garner support when they talk about an issue that has shaped the presidential campaigns — security.

Uruguay is the fourth country in South America with the highest homicide rate. In 2018, 11.8 homicides occurred per 100,000 inhabitants.

The need for better security makes candidates like Guido Manini Rios, a former commandant of the National Army, stand out in general surveys. Manini and his party Cabildo Abierto are related to people with deep links in far-right movement and neo-Nazism.

Manini, who openly defends Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, have a strong support of military forces and popular classes.

Back to the third position is Ernesto Talvi from Colorado Party, a moderate right movement that has made coalitions with PN in the past.

He has advanced academic knowledge of how the economic mechanism works because he was the academic director of CERES, a nonprofit research center dedicated to the analysis of Latin American economies. But his political inexperience plays against him when it comes to encouraging his voters.

If any of the candidates don’t achieve 50 percent of votes, a second round of election will take place in November.

Live without fear’ referendum

Besides voting for president, vice-president, 90 deputy members, and 30 senators, Sunday elections have another breakpoint: a security referendum proposed by right-wing to bring out the military forces at streets, toughen prison conditions and make night raids at Uruguayans homes legal.

The plebiscite promoted by the senator of the opposition PN, Jorge Larranaga, seeks the creation of a National Guard with 2,000 soldiers working alongside the police.

Like many cities in Latin America, Montevideo has seen mass marches against this referendum especially at a time when their Chilean neighbors fight against an undefined curfew and military deployed throughout the country.

In Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia the protests to claim civil rights have staggered the national governments and probably the results of Uruguayan elections will reflect this social discontent.

*Writing by Vakkas Dogantekin
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