Could Famously Liberal Uruguay Swing Right in Its Closest Election in Years?

Could Famously Liberal Uruguay Swing Right in Its Closest Election in Years?
Daniel Martinez, the candidate for the ruling Broad Front coalition, left, and Luis Lacalle Pou, the candidate for the center-right National Party, right, at a televised debate in Montevideo, Uruguay, Oct. 1, 2019 (AP photo by Santiago Mazzarovich).

Given everything else around it—from political turmoil in Brazil under President Jair Bolsonaro and sudden street protests in Chile to a fiercely contested election in Bolivia and a likely change of government in Argentina’s upcoming polls—Uruguay’s general elections Sunday may easily pass under the radar. Yet the vote on Oct. 27, set to be Uruguay’s closest in 15 years, could end a long period of leftist governance in this famously liberal country of 3.5 million people, further tilting South America to the right.

Conducted under a shadow of rising violent crime and sluggish GDP growth, the elections also coincide with a constitutional referendum that, if approved, would stiffen criminal sentences, boost police powers and see soldiers deploy in the street alongside law enforcement. This new era of tougher security policies would mark an inflection point for a society that has long prided itself for putting its 1973-1985 military dictatorship far behind it.

Uruguayans will enter voting booths Sunday to cast a single, compulsory vote to decide their president, vice president, 30 senators and 99 deputies for five-year terms that begin in March 2020. While seats in the General Assembly are determined by proportional representation—in 19 constituencies for deputies, and nationally for senators—presidential candidates must secure more than 50 percent of votes to avoid a runoff on Nov. 24.

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