Uruguay’s ruling coalition received a “wake up call” from voters during last Sunday’s municipal elections, admitted Vice President Danilo Astori. The Broad Front managed to retain five, probably six, of the 19 regional governments (departments) in which Uruguay is divided, while the opposition took the rest.
Equally important, the blank/void vote phenomenon—virtually non-existent in Uruguayan elections, since the electorate is very militant and there is a long tradition of participation— soared to a record of almost 13% last Sunday in the two most populated departments.
Even when the governing Broad Front managed to keep control over three of the main regional governments—including the capital Montevideo, where half the Uruguayan population lives—the main opposition National Party now controls eleven departments—possibly twelve—and the junior Colorado Party doubled from one to two.
The government thus lost control over several departments it had gained in the previous 2005 election and in the two departments which concentrate most of its electorate, the capital Montevideo and the surrounding area of Canelones, the blank/void vote came as a stunning warning.
Furthermore, in Montevideo—which has been ruled by the Broad Front since 1990 with clear majorities above 55%—this time the elected mayor of the Uruguayan capital, Communist Ana Olivera only garnered 46% of the vote. This, however, did not mean a gain for the two opposition parties which together remained at virtually the same level as in 2005: below 40%.
The election's result was interpreted by Broad Front officials—in spite of victory—as a touch of attention, since those blank/void votes clearly expressed a protest likely triggered by the party's (non-participative) system chosen to nominate the (nomenclature) candidate Ms. Olivera and the poor performance of the Montevideo governments which, after twenty years, seem incapable of solving simple issues such as garbage collection, transport system, chaotic traffic and the overall municipal taxing scheme which is far from delivering what is expected.
Recent abuses committed by traffic inspectors against a female driver who recorded and filmed the incident on a cellular phone plus excesses from the municipal workers' union (ADEOM) that seems to yield more power than Montevideo elected officials have also helped to dent support.
Therefore with the exception of Montevideo, Canelones, and Maldonado—a significant department since it has sea resorts which attract the rich and famous from Argentina and Brazil who come to de-stress in summer months—the rest of the country is now almost totally and solidly back in control of the opposition parties.
In a few of them, the Broad Front lost by a minimum difference and in one of them (Florida) a second vote recount is needed since it’s too close to call: the difference is, so far, of only 29 votes.
However, the interesting fact is that in most of the opposition controlled departments for the national presidential election last October and the run off in November, the ruling Broad Front coalition's President José Mujica was victorious.
This has two main interpretations: one which seems obvious and indicates that in local elections as last Sunday’s, local issues outweigh national interest or allegiances and secondly, most of the newly elected mayors are aligned with the candidate who surprisingly lost the National Party primaries last June.
At the time, Conservative Luis Alberto Lacalle was proclaimed National Party's presidential candidate, defeating Senator Jorge Larrañaga—a more middle-of-the-road politician. Some analysts argued then that Lacalle was too conservative for the Uruguayan mood, something which proved correct when he lost to Mujica, having garnered in the October round just 29% of the vote.
Uruguayan political analysts finally point out that the strong message was not only for the ruling coalition—which still has control over the two most important local governments—but also to opposition parties, since the overall number of votes remain almost unchanged for both sides.
“We’re not happy with the government, but the opposition still has to convince us,” seems to be the main message a vast majority of the Uruguayan electorate expressed in the municipal elections last Sunday.