By Natalia Roba, 2011 Americas Project fellow, Uruguay
The Oct. 26 elections in Uruguay confirmed the hegemony of center-left party Frente Amplio (FA). Even though the presidential candidate of this political force, ex-president Tabaré Vázquez (2005-2010), did not win 50 percent of the votes — necessitating a Nov. 30 run-off against the candidate of the Partido Nacional (PN), Luis Lacalle Pou — the result of the first round makes the second a mere formality.
Against all public opinion predictions that the Frente Amplio would not secure more than 46 percent of the votes in the first election round, the leftist coalition won more than 48 percent of the votes. With this result, FA won a majority in Parliament for the third consecutive time. The party has a guaranteed 50 seats out of the 99 in the House of Representatives and 15 out of 31 in the Senate. If the Frente Amplio candidate wins the presidential election, vice-presidential candidate Raúl Sendic will become the 16th senator belonging to that party. As in the United States, the vice-president is the president of the Senate in Uruguay.
Taking second place in the political spectrum is the Partido Nacional with 31 percent of the votes. Lacalle Pou, at 41 the youngest candidate in this year’s race, ran a good electoral campaign in which he came across more as a rock star than a presidential contender. But even so, the electorate demonstrated a preference for leaders with experience and a strong grasp of the progressive ideology promoted by the current government.
Another surprise of the election was the poor showing of the Partido Colorado (PC), with 13 percent of the vote. Along with the Partido Nacional, PC is a traditional party of the political right; it governed Uruguay for almost 100 uninterrupted years until 1958. The October 2014 election resulted in the second-lowest percentage of votes in its history. The party’s lowest point came in 2004, when the left won for the first time and the PC obtained just 10.36% of the votes.
As we look ahead to the run-off, the Partido Colorado has demonstrated support for PN candidate Lacalle Pou. Still, the odds are not good considering that the sum of October votes for the Partido Nacional and Partido Colorado reached a 44 percent, while the Frente Amplio in the first round alone gained four percentage points more.
The Partido Nacional has plotted its game plan of fighting the ever-more elusive presidency, stating that it will go against “conservatism.” The Frente Amplio, with its parliamentary majority, presents itself as the party of certainty and governing experience.
The fourth political force with parliamentary representation, the Partido Independiente, won in this election 3.1 percent of the votes, a seat in the Senate and three in the House (until now it had only two representatives). The Partido Independiente presented itself in the campaign as the party that would provide balance among other parties in the Parliament — in other words, the party with which others should weave alliances in order to effectively legislate. But that role went by the wayside when the elections led to an overwhelming majority win by the FA in Parliament.
Lastly, the Unidad Popular, an ultra-leftist party that is very critical of the party in office, calling it an “ally of imperialism,” gained for the first time a seat in the Parliament. The elected representative, Eduardo Rubio, has already announced that he will act in opposition to the government.
Beyond the candidates, the Oct. 26 elections brought another undisputed winner: current President José Mujica. As his term reached an end, he was able to position himself as an indisputable leader both from within and outside the government. In the weeks before the elections, his political weight was on display as he campaigned for, and made public comments supporting, certain candidates – both of which are prohibited by the Constitution. Still, far from damaging the governing party’s image, it helped the party achieve a voting result much better than expected. His political sector, the Movement of Popular Participation (MPP), in which Mujíca headed the Senate list, he obtained a wide majority within the Frente Amplio: it won six seats of senators out of the 15 that the FA will have and 24 of the 50 of the party in office. This prospect will force Vázquez, in the case that his election is confirmed, to negotiate with the MPP, a wing more to the left than the one he represents.
Considering these circumstances, the cards have already been dealt. One must only wait until the Nov. 30 run-off to watch voters almost certainly decide to break a pattern established with the re-establishment of democracy in 1985 (after 13 years of dictatorship) in which no political party is in power for more than two consecutive administrations.
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.