Vazquez leads Uruguay president vote; faces runoff

AP News
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Posted: Oct 27, 2014 1:30 PM
Vazquez leads Uruguay president vote; faces runoff

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Former president Tabare Vazquez led Uruguay's presidential election in results released Monday, but fell a few percentage points short of the outright majority needed to avoid a Nov. 30 runoff.

Vazquez, the candidate of the ruling Broad Front leftist coalition, had nearly 48 percent after nearly all votes were officially counted. His center-right challenger Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou of the National Party got about 30 percent. Pedro Bordaberry of the Colorado Party took about 13 percent in Sunday's vote and announced that he would support Lacalle Pou in the second round.

Whoever wins the presidency will likely face a Congress closely divided between the Broad Front and its opponents.

Now 74, Vazquez took office in 2005 as Uruguay's first socialist president, and the first of any kind in 170 years to break the control of the dominant Colorado and National parties.

He pursued moderate economic policies that helped Uruguay outpace neighbors while improving life for the poor. He left office in 2010 with high popularity ratings that put his party's candidate, Jose Mujica, in the president's office.

A still-practicing oncologist, Vazquez expanded health care in his first term and campaigned against the use of tobacco. He also vetoed a law to liberalize restrictions on abortion — a measure that later passed under Mujica.

Vazquez has vowed to continue with the Broad Front's mix of pro-market economic policies and social welfare plans and said the vote on Sunday was "a huge recognition to the nine years of the Broad Front's government. ... Uruguay will now have to decide between five more years of progressivism, or another type of government."

Mujica, who was barred by the constitution from running for a second consecutive term, remains popular after steering Uruguay through a period of economic growth and rising wages. He also gained worldwide notice overseeing the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage, although the measures remain less popular at home.

Critics also say his administration failed to deal with problems in education, security and environmental protection.

Lacalle Pou campaigned on promises to tackle rising crime, improve education and modify the law that Mujica spearheaded to create the world's first national marketplace for legal marijuana. Although he would still allow consumers to grow pot plants at home for personal use, he said he would end the government's role in the production and sale of marijuana.

He also vowed to curb rising prices, and opposes Mujica's plan to resettle six Guantanamo prisoners in Uruguay.

"What's being done well, we'll continue doing well, and what's wrong, we'll fix and do well now," Lacalle Pou said Sunday night.

Broad Front officials said the coalition had retained its legislative majority on Sunday, but authorities at the electoral court said the composition of Congress was still unclear.

Uruguayans also voted in a plebiscite against changing the constitution to lower the age a person can be criminally charged as an adult from 18 to 16.