MONTEVIDEO – Uruguayans were preparing Saturday for what was expected to be the country’s most competitive election in years.
Polls show that the top two presidential candidates, Daniel Martinez and Luis Lacalle Pou, will almost certainly be forced into a runoff, while no party is expected to win a majority in Congress.
Up to Friday, the final date authorized for electioneering, the political parties filled the streets with their flags and colors in hopes of winning over the last undecided voters.
The latest surveys all show the growing advantage of Martinez, candidate of the ruling center-left Broad Front (FA), over his closest rival, Luis Lacalle Pou of the conservative National Party (PN), but the uncertainty about the distribution of votes among the other hopefuls makes it impossible to predict whether the government’s ideological tilt is in for a change this November.
Martinez is projected to get at least 40 percent of the vote on Sunday, compared with anywhere from 25 percent to 29 percent for Lacalle Pou, who lost the 2014 presidential runoff to outgoing incumbent Tabare Vazquez.
Under Uruguayan law, a presidential candidate needs to get an absolute majority to win in the first round.
The following candidates will undoubtedly influence the outcome, with Ernesto Talvi of the center-right Colorado Party the best placed among them, since he would contribute in the best of cases just under 16 percent, while Guido Manini Rios of the rightist Town Hall party is expected to do no better than 12.5 percent.
Both are seen to favor a coalition government with the PN, though Talvi has expressed his doubts about entering into an alliance with Town Hall, which includes apologists for Uruguay’s 1973-1985 military regime and other far-right elements.
Some 2.7 million citizens are obliged to go to the polls to elect, aside from the next president, the 99 members of the lower house of Congress and 30 senators.
According to the latest surveys, the lower house will be made up of seven parties, which would be its most fragmented composition in history.
Also on the ballot will be the “Living Without Fear” initiative organized by PN Sen. Jorge Larrañaga, which seeks to amend the constitution in the area of public safety.
The proposal would create a 2,000-member National Guard to assist police with law-enforcement duties, allow judges to order nighttime raids, deny the early release of prisoners guilty of certain serious crimes and enable the handing down of reviewable life sentences for heinous crimes.
Neither Martinez, the former mayor of Montevideo, nor Lacalle Pou, a senator and son of a former president, supports the proposed constitutional reform, although polls indicate it is backed by around half of Uruguay’s population.
There will be 7,122 polling places open from 8:00 am until 7:30 pm, and more than 90 percent of the ballots are expected to be counted “before midnight,” the deputy chief of the Electoral Court, Wilfredo Penco, told EFE.