Sunday's primaries in Uruguay cleared the way for the candidates of the four parties with legislative representation that will be disputing the presidential election next October 26, with a run-off a month later if none of them manages 50% plus one of ballots.
The only two big surprises of the day was the unexpected and resounding victory in the main opposition National party of Luis Lacalle Pou, who defeated veteran Senator and hopeful Jorge Larrañaga by almost ten points, when pollsters 48 hours before had anticipated a very tight race.
The other was the minimum turnout, in the low thirties, which is extremely low for Uruguay and sends a strong message of voters' apathy or discontent by militants that didn't bother to express their views.
Anyhow it can also be argued that in the rest of the parties, the ruling Broad Front coalition, the Colorado party and the Independent party, as opinion polls forecasted the competition would not alter support for the favorites.
In the ruling coalition, former president Tabare Vazquez (2005/2010), managed an overwhelming 80% of the ballots, while challenger Constanza Moreira climbed to a very dignified 18%, given the fact her campaign started only a few weeks ago.
Ms Moreira attracted dissidents who feel the coalition has moved too far to the right, reaffirming orthodox economic policies and with a very limited renewal of leaders in the different groups that make up the catch all coalition.
Nevertheless Ms Moreira (despite the victory of the 'dinosaurs') promised to battle for the Broad Front victory next October. However the big battle will be regarding who will accompany Vazquez in the presidential ticket, particularly since the 'renovation' of figures in the National party might force changes from a 'balanced' ticket', (as was anticipated) to one with a candidate that offers the best conditions for the job.
This however did not prevent candidate Vazquez in his victory speech to read an agenda of ten points, he pledged, would be the essence of his next administration.
In the junior opposition Colorado party, similarly favorite candidate Pedro Bordaberry garnered over 70% of the vote and his runner up, Jose Amorin Batlle, almost 30%. There is no animosity between the two contenders, almost the same age and brought up in the same school. But it must also be said that given the overall public opinion support for the Colorado party according to opinion polls, barely 15%, it does not seem wise to squabble over that percentage.
The Independent party, with at the most 2% of the overall national vote, simply complied with the formality of the primaries with an only candidate, Pablo Mieres, who obviously was supported by 100% of the grouping's vote.
But the National party, and the leading opposition force, catapulted young Lacalle Pou, 41 to become the official candidate with 56% of the vote, compared to 43% for Larrañaga, who had already run against Vazquez ten years ago, and lost.
There was reciprocated praise from the two candidates to ensure the party's unit but before the 'light and brief' official embrace (for the pictures), Larrañaga at his headquarters made a short announcement thanking all the militants but anticipating he was stepping down, because 'the only person responsible for the defeat was him.
Larrañaga said he would take time off to meditate at his farm by the river Negro, 'listen to his silence' and will then decide with his family where he wants to stand, but obviously will continue to support the National party.
Official candidate Lacalle Pou, promised for October's presidential election the same style of campaign, 'a positive campaign', ignoring provocations (I was so many times tempted, but I preferred to keep on track'), with open discussions, hopefully debates or exchange of ideas among the candidates, and listening to all those who want a better Uruguay.
Making dreams possible, that is why I always look forward, even when we took off a year ago with just 6% of vote intention, we finally made it: that is work, militancy, conviction and trespassing, said the presidential candidate.
He also talked about 'renovation' and a new generation of leaders (he made sure no pictures were taken of him next to his father, former president Luis Alberto Lacalle), and above all his media campaign was by far the most effective and contagious, both in radio messages, jingles, television spots.
But now that the primaries are over, the real competition begins, because it is for the big prize: five years when President Mujida steps down next March, and the ruling coalition and its candidate Vazquez, despite all the mistakes and criticisms from inside, remain comfortably ahead in opinion polls. And the administration of Mujica, with abundant handouts and admiration from overseas, is making sure the Broad Front electorate remains closely knit and faithful.