Uruguay’s Mujica, Lacalle Head For Runoff: Exit Polls

By Dialogo
October 26, 2009

Uruguay's presidential elections headed for a runoff after former guerrilla leader Jose Mujica fell short of the 50 percent needed for an outright victory over ex-president Luis Lacalle, media exit polls showed. "There will be a runoff," said Channel 12 pollster Luis Gonzalez. The polls gave the incumbent Broad Front party candidate Mujica between 47 and 49 percent of the vote, followed by the National Party conservative Lacalle, who was a distant second with about 28-31 percent. The Colorado Party's Pedro Bordaberry, 49, came in third with 17-18 percent of the ballot. A November 29 runoff would be held between the two top vote getters -- Mujica and Lacalle. Mujica, 74, conceded he was heading for a runoff, but expressed optimism about its outcome. "We came very close to the majority," he said. "Our party is very optimistic about the second round." But Lacalle, 68, was not willing to give up. "We will be in control of the executive branch on November 29," he assured. If Mujica wins the election, analysts believe he will continue left-wing economic policies introduced by outgoing President Tabare Vazquez, a pediatrician who is ending his five-year term on a wave of popularity but is constitutionally barred from reelection. For Mujica, ascending to the presidency would be vindication for wrongs he suffered under Uruguay's brutal 1973-1985 dictatorship. As a founder of the Tupamaros urban rebel movement, Mujica was shot nine times, and was jailed in 1970 by the country's then democratic authorities as they set about to largely crush his group. After twice escaping jail and being recaptured, he ended up behind bars and enduring solitary confinement as one of the prisoners of the military regime that took power in 1973, in part responding to Tupamaro radicalism. Mujica was freed under a general amnesty issued in 1985 when democracy was restored. If elected, he would be only the second former guerrilla to take power through the ballot box in Latin America, following Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega. But his guerrilla past is a sore point with conservatives in this small, temperate nation of 3.4 million wedged between Argentina and Brazil. "They want to transform Uruguay into a communist, socialist country. I hope Mujica does not win, because I would not vote for subversives, thieves and assassins," Raquel Rodriguez, an 82-year-old retiree, said Sunday after voting for Bordaberry. But analysts depict Mujica as much more a reformer than a revolutionary. A former agriculture minister, he has promised to continue the policies of the outgoing government, which halved unemployment and strengthened minority rights, including laws allowing homosexuals to form civil unions and adopt children. Saturday, he praised the governing style of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a leftist whose moderate policies have eased early suspicions of the business sector. Along with presidential balloting on Sunday, Uruguayans said no to repealing an amnesty law for military and police accused of human rights violations during the junta era. Exit polls indicated that only between 47.7 and 48.3 percent approved the referendum initiative that would have struck down the law that addresses political crimes committed between 1973 and 1985. At least 50 percent of the vote was needed for the measure to pass. Voters also rejected a measure that would have allowed some half a million Uruguayans living abroad to cast ballots in national elections. At the same time, Uruguayans voted to renew their bicameral General Assembly that has 99 deputies and 31 senators.