Polls close as Uruguay picks a president, eyes reforms


Uruguayans voted Sunday for a successor to leftist President Tabare Vazquez and on constitutional reforms including establishing a military police force.

Polls closed at 7:30 pm (2230 GMT) as Uruguayans elected all 99 deputies and 30 senators in the Congress.

The vote came on the same day as a general election in Argentina next door, and against a backdrop of regional strife following massive street protests in Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia, the latter over alleged electoral fraud.

Daniel Martinez, the candidate for Vazquez’s ruling Broad Front coalition, turned up to vote in the upmarket Pocitos area of the capital Montevideo just after 11:00 am.

He was met by a swarm of local media and a handful of supporters chanting their favorite slogan about him: “Martinez, Martinez, is bald.”

“It’s been an enjoyable campaign, very cool,” a smiling Martinez told reporters. “Let the people decide. There’s a party in the streets.”

Uruguay has long been considered a bastion of peace and stability in an often turbulent region.

But security has been declining, with a sharp rise in some violent crimes reported last year.

In 2018, South America’s second-smallest country registered a record 414 murders, up 45 percent on the year before.

The alarming hike fueled a debate over proposed constitutional changes meant to improve security.

Those include the creation of a military National Guard, the establishment of life terms for the most serious offenses — 32 years is the current maximum — and authorizing police to conduct nighttime raids on the homes of suspected drug dealers.

Polls opened at 8:00 am and results are expected at 8:30 pm. The result of the constitutional reforms should be tight.

Security has been a major issue as the governing Broad Front seeks a fourth consecutive term.

In power since 2005, the Front faces a tough test, with voters angered by a stagnant economy, inflation of 7.5 percent and a nine percent unemployment rate.

Martinez led a recent poll with 40 percent.

That would not be enough for the former Montevideo mayor to avoid a runoff on November 24, though.

Former senator Luis Lacalle Pou, 46, of the center-right National Party was polling 28 percent, but in an eventual runoff he would likely win backing from historic rivals the Colorado Party, whose candidate is the economist Ernesto Talvi.

As he cast his vote in Canelones, a city north of Montevideo, Lacalle Pou said he would start preparing for the second round “tomorrow” because “there’s no time to waste.”



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