Tabare Vazquez was sworn in as president of Uruguay Sunday, returning to office a decade after first leading the centre left catch-all coalition to power and drawing a curtain on folksy farmer Jose Mujica's colorful rule. Vazquez, a cancer doctor with a more buttoned-down style than the outspoken Mujica, won 53.6% of the vote in a November 30 presidential run-off, reclaiming the office he previously held from 2005 to 2010.
Mujica, a former guerrilla fighter known for legalizing marijuana, gay marriage and abortion, handed the presidential sash back to his predecessor and Broad Front (FA) party colleague, reversing their roles from five years ago in this country that bars presidents from serving consecutive terms.
After taking the oath of office before the National Assembly, he called for dialogue on issues facing the country, at a moment when the parties that long dominated Uruguayan politics, the Blancos (Whites) and Colorados (Reds), are reeling from a string of FA victories.
We can and we must analyze and dialogue respectfully together on the different paths to achieve the best public education for our people, to have quality health care for all, dignified housing, he said.
Vazquez and his vice-president Raul Sendic were driven from Parliament to the Executive building in an open 1947 Fordson van. While studying to become a doctor the future president earned a living with a delivery in the small van which some friends recovered and refurbished for the occasion.
In the Independence Plaza, where all special guests including heads of state and government were seated, Vazquez formally received the presidential sash from Mujica and later took the oath of office to his cabinet.
Vazquez, 75, cuts a more sober figure than the outspoken Mujica, and has criticized some of his reforms -- including a still-unimplemented plan to sell marijuana at pharmacies, a key element of the new cannabis law.
The two allies have clashed at times within the FA, and Vazquez announced his new cabinet in December without consulting Mujica. However the former president steps down more popular than ever, with an approval rating over 60%.
The 79-year-old farmer attracted international attention as much for his lifestyle as his policies.
Under Mujica, Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize marijuana all the way from the cannabis field to the joint, setting up a regulated market for cultivation, sales and use.
The leader, who will now become a senator, was also known for his candid -- and sometimes less-than-diplomatic -- remarks.
A live microphone once caught him saying: This old hag is worse than the one-eyed guy. It was a reference to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez and her late husband and former president Nestor Kirchner, who had a lazy eye.
Critics point to Mujica's shortcomings, including his failure to implement education reform, even as the country's academic achievements fell.
Vazquez inherits a country facing a tougher economic climate than when he first took office in 2005. Uruguay has enjoyed 12 years of unbroken growth and record-low unemployment, but the agricultural dynamo is now struggling to deal with the end of the global commodities boom.
Inflation is now more than one point above the official target range of three to seven percent, and Uruguay's giant neighbors Argentina and Brazil are both experiencing economic downturns.