Uruguay: Vazquez rules out major change

Broad Front coalition supporters celebrate the election of Tabare Vazquez. Picture: Reuters
Broad Front coalition supporters celebrate the election of Tabare Vazquez. Picture: Reuters
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Tabare Vazquez’s victory in Uruguay’s presidential election is a show of support for the leftist coalition that has governed the country for the past decade and allows the government to proceed with its plan to create the world’s first state-run marijuana marketplace.

Vazquez, a 74-year-old oncologist who was president from 2005 to 2010, topped centre-right rival Luis Lacalle Pou of the National Party by 53 per cent to 40 per cent in Sunday’s vote.

The run-off vote drew international attention after Lacalle Pou promised to undo much of the pioneering plan to put the government in charge of regulating the production, distribution and sale of marijuana.

Vazquez, meanwhile, said he would proceed with it, unless it produced negative results. As results came in, Lacalle Pou called Vazquez to concede and wish him “great success”, while supporters of Vazquez’s Frente Amplio (Broad Front) coalition poured into the streets to celebrate.

In his victory speech, Vazquez called on the opposition to join him in a national accord to deal with the issues of public security, health and education. “I want to be able to count on all Uruguayans, but not so they follow me, so they guide me, accompany me,” he said.

Sunday’s win marked a reversal of roles for Vazquez, who shook up Uruguayan politics when he became president the first time, peacefully ending 170 years of two-party dominance. In his first presidential campaign, Vazquez promised changes that would “shake the roots of the trees.” But he governed as a relatively cautious moderate, avoiding the constitutional changes and polarisation that have shaken countries such as Venezuela.

His popularity on leaving office paved the way for the election of his successor, current President Jose Mujica, a former guerilla known for his humble lifestyle and straight talk. Both men belong to the Broad Front coalition, which has been in power for a decade and has passed laws on same-sex marriage, abortion and marijuana.

This time around, Mujica’s popularity and a strong economy helped propel Vazquez into office, where he is now seen as the candidate of continuity, not of change.

Vazquez immediately moved to calm fears that he would introduce radical change in his second term. “Within the Constitution and the law, everything. Outside the Constitution and the law, nothing,” he announced.

Lacalle Pou is the son of another ex-president, Luis Alberto Lacalle Herrera, who governed from 1990 to 1995.