Uruguay’s main opposition party performed much better than anticipated according to official results of last Sunday’s primary elections for the nomination of presidential candidates for October’s elections.
Of the three main political forces in Uruguay, the National Party turnout was higher in all of Uruguay’s 19 electoral districts expect in the capital Montevideo which is the stronghold of the ruling Broad Front coalition. Nevertheless the opposition advance was more than significant.
Out o total 2.6 million registered voters, 1.15 million turned out on Sunday for the primaries with the National Party taking 467.639 votes (46.1%), the Broad Front, 417.563 (41.1%) and the Colorado Party, 120.973 votes equivalent to 11.9%.
Although contrary to Uruguayan electoral legislation voting in primaries is not compulsory, Sunday’s turnout was impressive since one of the trademarks of the ruling coalition has long been its strong militancy and participation of its followers plus the fact that in the last two general elections it emerged as the main political force.
So on Sunday this fact was reversed nationally and in all districts except Montevideo where for the first time in almost fifteen years the sum of the National and Colorado parties was only three points below.
Of the 19 electoral districts in which Uruguay is divided the Broad Front governs eight of them, including the two most important, Montevideo and Canelones which surrounds the Uruguayan capital.
With the exception of Montevideo, the National party had a larger turnout in the remaining seven and particularly outstanding is Canelones, where the ruling coalition was pushed to a distant runner up. This is not good news for the ruling coalition’s prospects next October.
Furthermore the Colorado party exhausted after having ruled fifteen out of the almost twenty five years since the return of democracy, and which only managed 7% in the last general election of 2004, had a turnout of almost 12%.
If last Sunday’s picture was to be the scenario of the coming presidential election the National party nominated candidate Luis Alberto Lacalle would comfortably defeat the Broad Front Jose Mujica, and with the support of the Colorado party ensure victory either on the last Sunday of October, or a month later if a run off was needed. (50% plus one of votes cast).
However last Sunday, even when it could be an indication of the electorate’s mood, is only a picture of a precise moment and four months of tough campaigning await the nominated candidates.
The National party also sprinted first by agreeing on the same night following the vote count, the presidential ticket between the two leading hopefuls, Lacalle and Jorge Larrañaga who have already started working out the October strategy.
The Broad Front on the other hand has been unable to agree the ticket, even when “the consensus is there”, Mujica and runner up economist Danilo Astori who by the way was the choice of President Tabare Vazquez. Nevertheless this kind of process is usually more cumbersome in the ruling coalition which is a catch-all party, with references stretching from the radicals and communists to socialists and Christian democrats.
But Astori and the orthodox policies he espoused as Finance minister are considered a wining card to attract the non party middle of the road and independent voter, who could have some apprehensions about the former guerrilla leader Mujica who also lacks a university education which can be considered a non-plus condition for the Uruguayan electorate.
Furthermore Mr. Mujica who was the most voted candidate of the most voted slate to the Senate in October 2004, last Sunday was 50.000 votes below Mr. Lacalle and just 20.000 ahead of the other National Party presidential hopeful Larrañaga.
The final tally was Lacalle, 274.459 votes; Mujica, 224.766; Larrañaga, 205.531; Astori, 171.533; Bordaberry the Colorado party nominated candidate, 90.727 and the third Broad Front hopeful, Marcos Carambula, 35.775.
Another problem is Mr Carambula who on Sunday turned out to be more of a liability than an asset. He only managed 8% of the vote as presidential hopeful and in his own county, the second most important electoral district of Uruguay, where national elections are usually decided, he was supported by 7.358 votes compared to 20.501 for Astori and 33.480 for Mujica.
Finally whether the poor Sunday turnout of the Broad Front was a tendency or an accident, political analysts believe it can be attributed to the fact that the party is “demobilized” or has lost its strong opposition militancy spirit since becoming government or simply did not feel attracted by the competition.
Another factor could be that being a catch all coalition, the idea of an only candidate, nominated in cupola negotiations behind doors is more attractive and leaves fewer scars and grudges than a prolonged primary as has been on this occasion.
In 2004 Tabare Vazquez was the only candidate, and on the previous occasion in 1999 was something almost similar: Vazquez defeated Astori 83% to 17%.