It wasn’t unexpected, but former president Tabaré Vázquez easily won Uruguay’s presidential runoff late Sunday, extending control by the the leftist Frente Amplio (Broad Front) for at least another five years.
Vázquez, who made national history by leading his party to victory in the 2004 election, was succeeded by José Mujica (pictured above, right, with Vázquez, left), who has become in five years one the world’s most beloved presidents — for his extremely simple, austere personal style, for his honesty and folksiness, and sometimes even for his policies, which have included social reforms like liberalizing Uruguay’s abortion laws, enacting same-sex marriage equality and legalizing marijuana use.
Those reforms, in addition to a plan to host a handful of prisoners from the US prison facility at Guantánamo Bay, will be secure under Vázquez’s second term.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Both Vázquez and Mujica have benefited from an incredibly strong economy, which has propelled Uruguayan GDP per capita higher than in any other South American country, and that was an obvious factor in Vázquez’s victory against Luis Lacalle Pou, the attractive, young candidate of the more conservative Partido Nacional (National Party), or the ‘blancos,’ one of the two traditional Uruguayan parties.
So what to expect from the next five years? Vázquez, now firmly in legacy-moulding terrain, will hope to consolidate the gains of the past decade, including the economic and social reforms of both his prior administration and the Mujica government.
That also entails working to keep the Uruguayan economy strong, notwithstanding a Brazilian slowdown and increasing economic chaos in neighboring Argentina, which will choose a successor to Cristina Fernández de Kirchner later in 2015. It also means keeping the Frente Amplio brand strong for the inevitable day when it will lose an election, which means maintaining Uruguay’s relatively corruption-free reputation. Also expect Vázquez to move slightly more to the center than Mujica, who was always more popular personally than many of his signature policies, including the marijuana reform.
Mujica, after all, will still play an important role in Uruguayan politics as one of his party’s senators in the Cámara de Senadores (Chamber of Senators).
* * * * *
* * * * *
But there was always a sense that while Mujica’s charisma far outshone Vázquez’s charms, it was Vázquez who was the better executive, and in his first term, he expanding spending on health care and poverty and restructured the tax code, balancing the social welfare concerns of his leftist base and the interests of the country’s business community.
Accordingly, Vázquez is expected to be even more effective than Mujica with respect to economic governance, reforming Uruguay’s education system and reducing urban crime. Or so his supporters hope.
Though Vázquez defeated Lacalle Pou by a hearty margin of 56.63% to 43.37%, Lacalle Pou added twice as many voters between the October 26 first round and Sunday’s runoff. Lacalle Pou, the son of a former president who surprisingly won the National Party’s endorsement earlier this year and who united supporters of the equally conservative Partido Colorado (Colorado Party), whose first-round candidate Pedro Bordaberry, the son of the late former military dictator Juan María Bordaberry, is a longtime Vázquez detractor. Despite his loss on Sunday, Lacalle Pou remains well-placed to become a leading center-right contender for the 2019 election, especially if Vázquez stumbles or Uruguay’s economy falters.
In the meanwhile, Vázquez will enjoy a majority in both houses of the Asamblea General (General Assembly), including 15 of 31 seats in the upper house, the Cámara de Senadores (Chamber of Senators) and a razor-thin outright majority in the lower house, the Cámara de Diputados (Chamber of Deputies):