Leftist Vazquez wins Uruguay presidential runoff – exit polls
MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – Ex-president Tabare Vazquez won Uruguay's presidential runoff Sunday, November 30, extending the left's decade-long hold on power – though not necessarily his predecessor's ground-breaking marijuana laws, exit polls showed.
Vazquez, a 74-year-old cancer doctor who previously served as president from 2005 to 2010, won between 53% and 53.9% of the vote, and will succeed his Broad Front (FA) party colleague Jose Mujica, according to three different exit polls.
His center-right opponent, 41-year-old lawmaker Luis Lacalle Pou, took between 40.6% and 42% of the vote, found the pollsters, Factum, Cifra and Equipos Mori.
Lacalle Pou, a former president's son and passionate surfer who ran on the National Party ticket, conceded defeat after the exit polls were released.
The result, if confirmed, consolidates the FA's hold on power and returns Vazquez, who swept them to office 10 years ago, to the helm in a game of political leapfrog for this country that forbids presidents from serving consecutive terms.
The small South American country will now watch to see how Vazquez, a straight-laced politician with a formal style, handles the take-over from Mujica, a former guerrilla fighter and consummate rabble-rouser famous for living in a humble farmhouse and donating most of his salary to charity.
Marijuana law in doubt
Vazquez, who has at times clashed with Mujica within the FA, cuts a much more sober figure than his successor, who still drives around in his beat-up Volkswagen Beetle and is known as "the world's poorest president."
Mujica legalized abortion, gay marriage and marijuana sales during his administration.
Vazquez has said his policy priorities will be education, infrastructure and public safety.
Mujica's landmark initiative, legalizing marijuana, may face an uncertain future in Vazquez's hands.
Under the law, the first of its kind in the world, marijuana users were supposed to be able to choose a supply source – pharmacies, cannabis clubs or home-grown plants – and buy or grow the drug in a regulated, fully legal market.
Vazquez, who made strict anti-tobacco legislation one of his top priorities in his first term, has spoken out forcefully against smoking pot, called the idea of pharmacy sales "incredible" and said that if elected he would make "any corrections necessary" to the law.
Though the legislation officially came on the books in April, implementation is still in the very early stages.
Five more years
Vazquez's victory in 2004 represented a historic break with 174 years of dominance by Uruguay's two traditional parties: the "Colorados" (Reds) and "Blancos" (Whites, now officially called the National Party).
The ruling FA, a leftwing coalition founded in 1971, was banned under Uruguay's 1973-1985 dictatorship and spent another two decades in opposition before finally coming to power.
Vazquez ran as the candidate of change when he won 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% 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.
The FA has now presided over 10 years of economic growth, which came in at 4.4% last year.
Lacalle Pou had run a muted campaign since the October 26 first-round vote, when he finished a distant second with 30.9% to 47.8% for Vazquez.
Even the endorsement of third-place candidate Pedro Bordaberry of the Colorados, a fellow center-right challenger who took 12.9% of the first-round vote, does not appear to have been enough to salvage Lacalle Pou's presidential dreams.
The FA retained its legislative majority in the first round, including a senate seat for Mujica.
About 2.6 million people were eligible to cast ballots in the largely rural South American country, where voting is mandatory. – Rappler.com