Uruguay vote headed for runoff – exit polls
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – Leftist former president Tabare Vazquez and his center-right rival Luis Lacalle Pou will head into a November 30 runoff after Sunday's presidential vote failed to give a clear winner, exit polls showed.
President Jose Mujica will be succeeded either by his Broad Front ally Vazquez, who earned 44-46% of votes, or the National Party's Lacalle Pou, who garnered 31-34%, according to pollsters Equipos Mori, Factum and Cifra.
Some Vazquez supporters had hoped he could squeeze out an absolute majority, but it did not happen. Compounding their disappointment, his party was also seen as potentially losing its control over the legislature, the exit polls found.
The election was touted as possibly deciding the fate of Uruguay's world-first marijuana law. It legalized the drug, and aimed to establish a regulated market in which users could grow it at home, buy it from pharmacies or source it from "cannabis clubs."
The law, Mujica's landmark legislative initiative, was passed last December. But implementation is off to a rocky start, and it faces an uncertain future because Lacalle Pou opposes the law.
And even Vazquez, who made anti-smoking legislation the centerpiece of his own presidency, has questioned it and said he would not hesitate to make changes.
Surrounded by supporters, Mujica – a former leftist guerrilla famous for living in a humble farmhouse while president and donating most of his salary to charity – was one of the first to vote in the Cerro neighborhood west of the capital Montevideo.
He arrived in his old Volkswagen Beetle, accompanied by his wife, Senator Lucia Topolansky, vowing: "The country will come out ahead."
Vazquez, 74, is out to reprise his 2004 election win, which ended 174 years of dominance by the South American country's two traditional parties, Pedro Bordaberry's Colorados (Reds) and Lacalle Pou's Blancos (Whites, now officially called the National Party).
"We are hoping for the best, but the people will have their say," he said on arriving to cast his ballot.
Decade of reforms
After 10 years in power, the Broad Front (FA) clearly has lost some of its shine with voters -- a feeling exit polls backed up.
Vazquez ran as the candidate of change when he won office in 2004, cruising to victory in a single round as voters punished the two traditional parties for the region's 2002 economic crisis.
He left office with a 60-percent approval rating after getting the economy back on track, passing tough anti-smoking legislation and launching a program to give every public school student a laptop.
When Mujica took office, he took the progressive reform agenda up a notch, legalizing abortion and marijuana.
But though the FA has presided over 10 years of economic growth -- 4.4 percent last year -- and falling poverty, it has lost popularity mainly because of rising crime, inflation and complaints about the education system.
Vazquez now looks set to face a runoff against dynamic young newcomer Lacalle Pou.
The son of a former president, Lacalle Pou, 41, shot up in the polls after unexpectedly winning the National Party primary in June, running on a platform of "positivity" and "fresh air."
"We're very happy with the campaign," he said before casting his ballot.
Bordaberry, 54, the son of a president-turned-dictator who did away with democratic rule in 1973, had trailed in pre-vote polls with 15 to 18 percent. On Sunday, he did not make the cut.
Marring an otherwise incident-free election day, police said two men were killed outside Montevideo when a party banner they were trying to hang touched a high-tension wire, electrocuting them. – Rappler.com