By Felipe Michelini, professor in the Law Faculty of the Universidad de la República; member of the Chamber of Representatives, Uruguayan Congress; and Americas Project Fellow 2000
Uruguay’s national elections on October 26 will determine more than who occupies the Republic’s presidency, vice presidency, and Senate and House chambers — voters will also determine the government’s political orientation. The occasion will force Uruguayans to choose between the progressivism of the Frente Amplio party — which government has promoted for the past 10 years — and a return to the conservatism of the opposition Blanco and Colorado parties.
No one doubts that the Frente Amplio party, led by Dr. Tabaré Vázquez, is the primary political force of the country: it represents more than 45 percent of the population. This citizen support is not only the result of a successful administration, but also the cumulative consequence of social, political and cultural achievements that began with Frente Amplio’s founding in 1971, when it captured 18 percent of the general votes. This is a political left that endured difficult tests for survival during Uruguay’s military dictatorship (1973-1985), and later, after the reestablishment of democracy, spent 20 years as an opposition party. Frente Amplio has created fully functioning government institutions, sustained economic growth, improved wealth distribution and promoted a rights agenda under Tabaré Vázquez’ first presidential term (2005-2010) and throughout the current administration of President José Alberto "Pepe" Mujica (2010 to the present), both with a majority in Congress.
As frentistas (members of the Frente Amplio party), we hope that Tabaré Vázquez will win the presidency outright or, alternately, win in a second electoral round, in both cases with a parliamentary majority. Guaranteeing victory in the second presidential round would provide the mandate to continue promoting a progressive agenda that consists of:
- A national system of assistance prioritizing children, elderly adults and the disabled.
- Decentralization, i.e., transferring more decision-making power to the municipalities.
- A digital government
- Education initiatives with the objective that 100 percent of students 17 years of age remain in the educational system.
- A national housing plan.
- A reduction in the overall tax burden, with the reduction of indirect taxes to favor those that need it most.
- A strong policy of investment in roads, rails, ports, fuels and telecommunications infrastructure.
- A comprehensive plan for public security to combat delinquency.
- A national competitive system to allow the public sector to work in conjunction with the private sector to boost innovation and development.
- A national plan of democratic and humanistic culture to develop permanent programs and actions for social inclusion.
In the same election, Uruguayans will also vote on a referendum that would amend the constitution to allow the criminal prosecution of juveniles 16-18 years old as adults. Various organizations, including UNICEF Uruguay and the Organización Iberoamericana de Juventud (the Ibero-American Organization for Youth), indicate that this plebiscite, promoted by the conservative right in the country, would have a negative impact, and therefore the constitution should not be modified in this way. A survey carried out by Equipos Consultores indicates that public opinion is currently split on this issue.
Furthermore, this election is part of a larger regional issue. The electoral results in Brazil have still not been determined, Argentina is dealing with foreign exchanges rates and attacks by vulture funds, and Chile has yet to see President Michelle Bachelet consolidate her reforms. Colombia and Venezuela are also in stages of uncertainty, with an inconclusive peace process in the former and a political crisis in the latter.
From this perspective, the outlook of the election will have regional effects. If Tabaré Vázquez wins, it would confirm that the path of success for the left consists of the responsible management of the macro-economy, advancing a dialogue on human rights, the distribution of wealth, full respect for the rule of law, and a foreign policy that does not erode the nation’s independence.
Beyond the results, Frente Amplio must rethink its role as a political force, especially in how it communicates and connects with the electorate, reaching Election Day with clearer support and more favorable ratings in public opinion polls.
In the hypothetical and improbable case that victory goes to the opposing parties, it will demonstrate that the Frente Amplio’s successful social and economic track record is not good enough to win over the electorate and that a good publicity campaign disguised the weaknesses of the opposing parties.
This end result would also bring instability and uncertainty to the country, concepts that are generally associated with the left in our continent, but are in Uruguay today connected to the conservative right. The opposition party has not yet articulated the policy changes that it would propose must be made at the macroeconomic level of government, insisting instead on slogans such as “governing well and now,” “positively,” and “we do more of the good and change the bad.” Nothing in their campaign reflects their speeches, actions, and votes in Parliament for the past 10 years. Even more troubling, the conservative right has not shown how a party, which in the best case would have only 35 percent of parliamentary support, would govern.
As Uruguayans, the decision is in our hands. The progressives have already decided their vote.
Voices of the Americas is a space for Americas Project fellows to share their insights into events unfolding in their home countries and in the region as a whole. The fellows' essays will also focus on economic development, institution building, democracy and the rule of law.