Moderate Opposition Candidate Is Elected President in Uruguay


In the first unrestricted balloting in 18 years, Uruguayans on Sunday elected a moderate opposition leader as president, and voters in the capital chose a leftist physician backed by ex-guerrillas as mayor.

Luis Lacalle of the National Party defeated Jorge Batlle of the ruling Colorado Party in the race to succeed President Julio Maria Sanguinetti. The Colorado Party suffered widespread losses in Congress and mayoral races as well as losing the presidency to the National Party for only the third time in this century.

After a five-year transitional government that followed the 1973-85 military dictatorship, the voting returned Uruguay to the full democracy that long characterized the largely middle-class nation. Former members of the once-feared Tupamaro guerrilla movement and others barred from the 1984 vote were free to run once again.

In the race for mayor of Montevideo province, home to half of Uruguay's population, the victor was 49-year-old doctor Tabare Vazquez of the Broad Front leftist coalition, breaking the traditional grip of the two major center-right parties in the district.

Vazquez, whose coalition includes the now-legal party of the former Tupamaro guerrillas, capitalized on discontent over poor garbage collection, street maintenance and other services.

The left's widespread gains prompted analysts to declare Uruguay's two-party system at an end. The 19-year-old Broad Front claimed to have won as many as 24 of the 99 seats in the lower house, up from 13, and a second leftist party, the New Space, could capture 11, according to unofficial projections.

The National Party appeared headed for similar gains, also at the expense of the Colorados.

In the presidential race, however, voters were decidedly in favor of Lacalle's free-market policies and proposals to restructure Uruguay's moribund welfare state.

Lacalle, a 48-year-old lawyer and rancher, said that with the political transition completed, Uruguay must focus on modernizing its state-dominated economy.

Both his National Party--called the Blancos, or Whites--and the Colorados, or Reds, want to privatize state-owned industries, reduce the state bureaucracy and trim the welfare state.

That follows a pattern across much of Latin America, backed by voters in Argentina, Venezuela and neighboring Brazil, where a conservative led a first-round vote this month.

The Broad Front's presidential candidate, retired Gen. Liber Seregni, was one of thousands who were imprisoned and tortured during the dictatorship, and he was banned from politics in 1984.

Batlle, a losing presidential candidate in 1967 and 1971, was detained several times but allowed to run for the Senate.

In Uruguay, family counts: Lacalle is a grandson of the late, longtime National Party leader Luis Alberto de Herrera, and Batlle is the son of a president and grand-nephew of Jorge Batlle y Ordonez, a two-time president who founded the now-moribund welfare state.

Neither party usually wins a majority in Congress, so cautious coalition governments are the norm. That caution infused Sanguinetti's tenure and limited major economic initiatives.

The nation focused on rebuilding a peaceful political climate after the rancors of the dictatorship and the left-wing Tupamaro terrorism that preceded it.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World