Uruguay’s conservative opposition leader Luis Lacalle Pou was confirmed as the victor of Sunday’s presidential election after a final count showed that he had won by a razor-thin margin.
The 46-year-old lawyer and son of a former president won by just 30,000 votes in a second round run-off poll, defeating Daniel Martínez, the 62-year-old former mayor of the capital Montevideo, representing the ruling Broad Front coalition.
Mr Lacalle Pou’s victory puts an end to 15 years in power for the Broad Front, the last to fall of the leftist governments that swept to power in Latin America during the commodities-fuelled boom at the turn of the century. Bolivia’s Evo Morales fled to Mexico amid violent protests this month.
As well as presiding over one of the longest cycles of economic growth in Uruguay’s history, in which both poverty and inequality fell, the Broad Front also implemented pioneering social reforms that won widespread international acclaim, including the legalisation of abortion, same-sex marriage and cannabis.
But the government of Tabaré Vázquez, who was re-elected to a second term as president for the Broad Front in 2014, lost popularity after a doubling in homicide rates in recent years to about 12 per 100,000 people in 2018.
In addition, the Broad Front’s popularity suffered from a stalling economy, with average annual economic growth of just 1.6 per cent over the past five years dropping from 5 per cent during its first decade in power from 2005 to 2015.
The market-friendly Mr Lacalle Pou, who leads the conservative National party, has pledged to boost competitiveness and cut a fiscal deficit of about 5 per cent of gross domestic product without raising the tax burden, one of the highest in the region. He claims that he can reduce state spending by as much as $900m without cutting public sector jobs.
The coalition led by Mr Lacalle Pou, whose father Luis Alberto Lacalle was president from 1990 to 1995, includes Uruguay’s two main parties, the Colorado party and the National party, which alternated in power for most of Uruguay’s history since independence in 1828.
In an effort to defeat the Broad Front, they joined forces with others including a far-right party founded this year and led by the former head of the army, Guido Manini Ríos. The retired general performed unexpectedly well in a primary election between all opposition parties, almost defeating the Colorado party’s candidate, Ernesto Talvi.
Mr Lacalle Pou’s loose coalition is set to have a majority in Congress, controlling 56 out of 99 seats in the lower house and 17 out of 31 seats in the senate. But analysts question its stability, and point out that the Broad Front remains the largest single force, with 42 deputies and 13 senators.