After the voting on this Sunday, in which Uruguayans went to the polls in a referendum to decide whether to keep or repeal the flagship legislative package of President Luis Lacalle Pou's government, the preliminary results ended up giving the victory to the ruling coalition, albeit by a very slim margin.
More than 2.6 million Uruguayans were called to vote this Sunday to maintain or repeal 135 of the 476 articles of the Law of Urgent Consideration (LUC), considered the backbone of the center-right administration, which polls closed earlier as we reported.
The YES option, in favor of repealing, reached 48.8% of the valid votes, while the NO ballot, to keep the law intact, reached 49.9%, according to numbers from the Electoral Court at 23H00 local time with 97% of the tables counted. In gross numbers, it is about 20,000 votes difference.
The election shows that the country is still divided in two political blocs of very similar dimensions, said political scientist Ignacio Zuasnábar to Subrayado.
”YES has reasons to celebrate, because it had a very good vote (...) For a Frente Amplio and a left in a process of leadership renewal and reconstruction of figures, it is a significant result, he said.
For several months, opinion pollsters gave a comfortable difference in favor of the option to maintain the legislative package of Lacalle Pou, who has a high approval rating two years after the beginning of his administration.
Both sides agreed on no release of exit ballot polls, and to follow strictly results from the Electoral Court. President Lacalle Pou when results were confirmed, next to his whole cabinet held a media conference underlining the peaceful and celebration mood that prevailed on Sunday.
He said the referendum was over, the LUC bill stands and it's back to normal life and challenges. The president recalled that the 476 articles of the LUC bill were circulated among all political parties and lobbies when he won the runoff in November 2019, that congress then discussed the bill with 279 articles modified with an ample dialogue, despite the fact the ruling coalition has a majority both in the Lower House, 56 out of 99 members, and 18 Senators out of 31. Lacalle Pou insisted that the LUC was and remains basically the government plan for his five year mandate, with the support of the five member coalition and promised to the electors.
As to the next steps Lacalle Pou gave his full support to the Police force, which has been unfairly accused of abuse: 58 reports but none proved true for the courts; the president then mentioned education as an issue which needs urgent attention likewise with the slums, for which congress has voted funds; there was a veiled criticism of Mercosur, without mentioning the word, opening the country to the world, convincing partners of the need of greater global competition, since our partners are sometimes too keen with protectionism; and finally fuel and prices.
Referring to fuel prices, Lacalle Pou recalled that since he took office the oil barrel price has ballooned from 44 to 115 dollars and mentioned that the previous government taking advantage of the low cost of crude was able to charge an additional 1,7 billion dollars in fuel taxes. He also promised that the issue of prices will be addressed this week, since it punishes very hard particularly the lower middle class.
Meantime the command of the YES ballot in a brief statement conceded defeat since we have been unable to reach the 50% plus 1 valid votes cast to annul the 135 articles, despite an impressive campaign which helped us to almost reach the objective. It was an essential democratic day which strengthens us as a nation and makes us proud as Uruguayans”.
The LUC, which came into force in July 2020, has a total of 476 articles on areas as diverse as security, education, housing and economy, which reflect the main points of the government program of the ruling coalition.
The articles submitted for consideration cover, in turn, very different topics. From the creation of the crime of aggravation to the police authority to the change in the method of fixing fuel prices or modifications in the adoption regime.
The referendum against the heart of the legislative package was promoted by social organizations, the trade union central PIT-CNT and the opposition Frente Amplio (left), which collected well over the 672,000 signatures required, equivalent to 25% of the electoral roll, to make it a reality.
Given the heterogeneity and complexity of the issues addressed, the election ended up becoming a sort of plebiscite on Lacalle Pou's administration.
Late in the evening and well into the night both sides celebrated a few blocks away, the ruling coalition for having overcome the referendum hurdle, and the opposition for having managed an excellent result, much better than anticipated by opinion polls, and speaking in football terms, fifteen minutes more and we could have beaten them.
But as president Lacalle Pou also pointed out, the result was almost a repeat of the runoff when he was elected in November 2019, so the country has not changed much, despite the pandemic and a challenging year, we are an only nation, with different opinions.