MONTEVIDEO – Uruguayans are heading to the polls on Sunday, with the presidency and all the seats in Congress at stake.
Some 2.7 million people are eligible to cast ballots, electing a successor to President Tabare Vazquez.
The frontrunners heading into the election were Daniel Martinez and Luis Lacalle Pou, with polls showing that the two will likely face each other in a run-off to determine who will govern this South American country from 2020 to 2025.
The 62-year-old Martinez is the candidate of the governing center-left Broad Front (FA) coalition, while the 46-year-old Lacalle Pou is the standard-bearer of the conservative National Party.
Ernesto Talvi, of the center-right Colorado Party, and former soldier Guido Manini Rios, of the rightist Cabildo Abierto party, are also on the presidential ballot.
Some 7,122 polling places are open across Uruguay and the national elections agency said they would be in operation from 8:00 am until 7:30 pm.
Election officials said they expected to have 90 percent of the ballots counted before midnight.
Voting is mandatory in Uruguay and citizens must cast ballots within the national territory.
Sunday’s vote is expected to be the most competitive in years in Uruguay, with polls indicating that no party will have an absolute majority in Congress – in which a total of 99 lower house and 30 Senate seats are up for grabs.
The lower house of Congress, according to the latest polls, will be made up of seven parties, which would be its most fragmented composition in history.
The last polls ahead of the election showed Martinez gaining ground, but the uncertainty about the distribution of votes among the other hopefuls made it impossible to predict whether the government’s ideological tilt was in for a change.
Martinez was 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 run-off to the outgoing president, Vazquez.
Under Uruguayan law, a presidential candidate needs to get an absolute majority to win in the first round.
If no candidate wins the presidential election outright on Sunday, the run-off will take place on Nov. 24.
Also on the ballot will be the “Living Without Fear” referendum item, organized by National Party 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.