By Charles Newbery
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina
Uruguayans went to the polls Sunday to choose the country’s next president in a runoff vote that likely will extend the leftist ruling party’s decade in power for another five years.
Rain and high winds slowed voting in South America’s second-smallest country, with authorities moving some polling stations due to flooding and power cuts, and some voters deciding to stay home to wait out the storm.
The wet weather, however, didn’t stop Tabare Vazquez from turning out early to cast his vote when stations opened at 8 a.m. local time in an election that likely will mark his return to the presidency.
The 74-year-old oncologist who ran the country from 2005 to 2010 declined to predict his victory in the runoff, even as polls suggest he will win by a 12- to 15-point margin over Luis Lacalle Pou, a 41-year-old lawyer and legislator of the conservative National Party.
“I don’t want to sell the bear’s skin before the hunt,” he said in televised comments to the press before going to vote in Montevideo.
The latest poll by Equipos Mori, a public opinion consulting company, shows that Vazquez will receive 53 percent of the vote in a country of 3.3 million citizens. Lacalle Pou is predicted to win 38 percent of votes.
Vazquez helped bring the presidency to the Broad Front party in 2005, breaking decades of rule by the traditional Colorado and National parties.
His 2005 -10 term – there is no immediate re-election in Uruguay – was marked by cautious economic policy, albeit with increased state spending and taxation, plus a broadening of commercial ties to reduce a reliance on trade with Argentina.
Uruguay’s economy had suffered badly after Argentina fell into a 2001 - 02 crisis that restricted trade with its neighbor across the Rio de la Plata estuary.
Vazquez’s successor, Jose Mujica, maintained the economic stability while also implementing progressive reforms like the legalization of abortion, gay marriage and marijuana.
Economists, however, warn that economic slowdowns in neighboring Argentina and Brazil, which remain large trade partners, will make it harder for the ruling party to manage the economy.
Indeed, Vazquez said that if he wins as expected, he will call on the opposition to help analyze economic, political and social issues so that “all of us can design the Uruguay of the future.”
He also didn’t discount his competitor’s political future.
Lacalle Pou “is a young man and he has a very important future,” Vazquez said.
For his part, Lacalle Pou said he has respect for Vazquez as a man who “sets a goal and with effort gets there,” adding that he was withholding criticism due to a ban on making such comments during the voting.
Polling stations close at 7:30 p.m., after which there is an hour extension to accommodate for any last-minute votes before results of exit polls can be announced at 8:30 p.m.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.