The Uruguayan government released this week the equivalent of 22.9 million dollars for the financing of political parties campaigning for 26 October when presidential and legislative elections are scheduled. In Uruguay political parties receive government support for electoral activities and private donations are closely scrutinized.
Under the current legislation the State contribution for a national election (every five years) is equivalent to approximately 10 US dollars for every valid ballot for the different presidential candidates. Thus the current sum in the range of almost 23 million dollars is based on the 2.224.871 valid ballots of the previous election in 2009.
The bill also contemplates that sixty days before election day, the country's national bank can advance the presidential candidates 50% of that sum, which must be distributed as follows: 20% for the presidential candidate; 40% for all those Senate hopefuls, but delivered to the head of the party. The distribution must be proportional to the votes obtained by each Senate hopeful.
The remaining 40% is to be distributed among the different Lower House hopefuls, under similar conditions, which means the money is delivered to the party, that then decides but based on the proportionality of each hopeful's vote.
With only a month before the national election the latest public opinion polls indicate that the ruling coalition which has been in office for two consecutive periods, (ten years), will have to face a run off at the end of November since it won't obtain 50% of the ballots in the first round, something which did not seem possible only six months ago.
According to the latest poll made public, Interconsult, the ruling coalition has a vote intention for the end of October of 41%, up a couple of points from previous polls, while the leading opposition National party has 30% and the junior opposition Colorado party, 14%, which means that mathematically the runoff is an open race. Smaller parties figure with 3% for the Independents, the Ecologist and Popular Unity, share 1% each.
The poll did not include a question for the run off, but what is certain is that the ruling coalition will not enjoy a legislative majority as is has had during its two mandates.
Former president Tabaré Vázquez is the ruling coalition candidate but this time does not seem to have the allure he enjoyed back in 2004, besides the fact he is his late seventies, and his campaign has committed several serious mistakes. One of them probably that he has consistently refused to debate with his contenders, and has said it in a rather arrogant manner.
The leading opposition candidate, Luis Lacalle Pou, 41, from the National party has led a successful campaign both in the primary of his party and nationally with a 'positive attitude', refusing to fall into recriminations or attacking the government's achievements, on the contrary praising them. This strategy has turned into quick sand for the Vazquez and his team.
This helps to explain why since the beginning of the year Lacalle Pou has managed to advance its party seven points while Vazquez a mere one, after having dropped 2 and 3 points.
Those yet undecided represent 6% of the Uruguay electorate while antoher 4% has anticipated they will vote blank or annul their ballot. The poll was taken between September 19 and 21, with 904 interviews and with a margin error of plus minus 3,1percentage points.
Another interesting issue is that in a highly politicized and suspcious electorate, as is Uruguay's, the public opinion poll estimates have fallen into a grey area, following raids by the Social Security Department to the pollsters offices. Although legal and understandable, elections are high season for pollsters and they contract many people on a short term basis, the moment chosen for those inspections and with such a disputed election, surprised many.
In effect at that time the ruling coalition had dropped to a vote intention below 40%, (a negative record), and since then opinion polls have shown a recovery. The high thirties percentage sent shock waves to the ruling coalition and a reaction could be expected.
But the other issue is that in a small economy as Uruguay's, and with such a predominance of the the state in several fields, pollsters main clients are different government offices and companies. Thus the suspicions.