Leftist parties that include former guerrillas and political prisoners celebrated dramatic election gains Monday and claimed to have broken Uruguay's traditional two-party system.
The National Party, the perennial underdog of the two main centrist parties, won the presidency from the long-dominant Colorado Party in Sunday's elections. The Colorados also suffered serious setbacks in congressional and mayoral races around the country.
Even more striking were the gains by the Broad Front, a leftist coalition that was allowed to compete fully for the first time since 1971, the year after it was founded. The Broad Front accomplished far more with ballots than some of its followers once believed possible with bombs and bullets.
Outgoing President Julio Maria Sanguinetti said the left's gains created "a new reality" that widens the political spectrum.
Despite his party's widespread losses, Sanguinetti expressed pride in having brought Uruguay peacefully back to stable democratic rule after a dozen years of military dictatorship.
One of the parties in the leftist coalition is the Movement for National Liberation, the political party of the former Tupamaro guerrillas, whose violent campaign against the political system in the late 1960s and early 1970s prompted a military coup in 1973. The coup led to more than a decade of repression and torture, against not only the guerrillas but many non-militant opponents of the regime.
The Colorados' share of the vote fell from 41% to 29%, while the Nationals rose from 35% to 37%. The Broad Front and a spinoff party called New Space won a total of 28%, up from 21% in 1984, and this promised to raise from 22 to 30 the left's share of the 99 seats in the lower house of Congress. The Colorados will have 31 and the National Party 38.
Sanguinetti, a lifelong politician, acknowledged the significance of the left's achievement. Chatting with reporters, he said: "You cannot minimize this change. This is a new reality, and time will tell if this holds up. But the death of the two-party system in Uruguay has been announced for more than a century."
He said he preferred to emphasize Uruguay's successes.