By Malena Castaldi and Esteban Farat
MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Tabare Vazquez won back his old job as president of Uruguay in a runoff election on Sunday, two unofficial quick counts showed, a result which would allow the ruling coalition to roll out a law legalizing the production and sale of marijuana.
One of the unofficial counts projected the leftist Vazquez winning 53.5 percent of votes and center-right challenger Luis Lacalle Pou 41.0 percent. Another had Vazquez with 53.9 percent and Lacalle Pou on 40.6 percent
Hundreds of ruling Broad Front supporters celebrated along a main avenue running through the center of the rain-soaked capital, Montevideo, waving party banners.
If his victory is confirmed by electoral authorities, Vazquez, 74, will replace Jose Mujica, whose straight-talking, unpretentious style won him widespread affection in the cattle-farming country of 3.4 million people.
"The country has changed for the better, we are past the days when people were leaving or children had to eat grass," said Demetrio Stavrinakis, 82, who like Mujica was a political prisoner during Uruguay's 1973–1985 military dictatorship.
"Today I see those dreams we once had have become reality and I'm overwhelmed with emotion," he added.
Vazquez was president from 2005 to 2010. He was popular for his mix of pro-business economic policies and strong welfare programs which helped kick-start a decade of robust growth and slash poverty after a deep crisis of the early 2000s.
(Additional reporting by Gaston Pergola and Esteban Farat; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Richard Lough and Kieran Murray)