By Felipe Michelini, 2000 Americas Project fellow
Once again, the Uruguayan people, in a peaceful and civilized manner, turned out in large masses and were unhindered at the polls. Civil rights are hardly enough for a society to become truly democratic, but they are highly significant. We should recognize when civil rights are exercised like they were in Uruguay’s elections on Oct. 26 and Nov. 30. Both rounds of voting were peaceful, tolerant and democratic. This democratic value is the achievement of the Uruguayan society. All citizens despite party affiliations contributed to it with civic maturity. I belong to a generation that exerted all its efforts, energy and talents for the restoration of democracy, so I undertake it as a duty to remember that the democratic system, often taken as obvious and natural, is actually an ongoing human process.
Only 40 years ago, those who had vowed to abide by the constitution and the law dishonored their commitments, renounced the republic and betrayed the people. Along with those who stained the uniform given to them by the motherland, they became repressive and direct participants in state terrorism between 1973 and 1985, violating the life, freedom and integrity of thousands of people and the society as a whole. Reinstating the right to vote took a lot of blood, sweat and tears. This is the reason why, 30 years after the restoration of democracy, the people of Uruguay desire and commit to a strong democracy, capable of protecting the victims, thus our claim for truth, remembrance and justice is continuous. No reconciliation will be possible on the basis of impunity, lies and forgetfulness.
On Oct. 26, the constitutional reform initiative that would penalize youths between the ages of 16 and 18 as adults was unsuccessful. This was a great triumph for civil rights and for our society’s progressive approach.
The clear and decisive initial victory of Frente Amplio and President-elect Tabaré Vázquez during the first round of voting on Oct. 26 was later ratified in the runoff election on Nov. 30. Vázquez won a sweeping 54 percent of the popular vote, becoming the elected president with the greatest support in the history of Uruguay. Furthermore, the Frente Amplio gained a majority in the House of Representatives, remaining the primary electoral force in the most populous districts of Montevideo, Canelones and Maldonado.
These are clear signs that the Frente Amplio is on the right track with the Uruguayan electorate. There is no doubt that the majority support for Frente Amplio demonstrated during both elections is related to the changes promoted by the party, including economic development, inclusive economic growth and wealth distribution, improved civil and political rights, and the rule of law.
The recent elections also provided a lesson about the use and abuse of surveys and pollsters. After the departmental elections are over, the political leadership should consider legislation to ensure the quality and reliability of public opinion surveys, distinguishing it from the analysis of the data obtained.
At any rate, the discrepancy between what analysts measured and said shows a society undergoing changes that all political parties, in particular the Frente Amplio, must address in order to better understand the social phenomena which they would like to impact.
The left and its progressive policies are here to stay in Uruguay. The rain, wind and cold temperatures that marked the second round of voting did not stop citizens from going to the polls and expressing their confidence in the institutions and in Frente Amplio. If this course of gradual and sustainable change continues, the future is promising for the left, not only in Uruguay but also in the entire region.
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.