MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — Former President Tabare Vazquez won the most votes in Uruguay’s presidential election Sunday, but he fell short of the outright majority needed to avoid a Nov. 30 runoff, exit polls said.
Three polls indicated that the left-leaning Vazquez, 74, the candidate of the outgoing president’s Broad Front coalition, would face center-right challenger Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, 41, of the National Party in a second-round vote.
Vazquez, who was president in 2005-10, would end up with around 44 percent or 45 percent of the vote, against 31 percent to 33 percent for Lacalle Pou, the polls predicted. Pedro Bordaberry of the Colorado Party came in a distant third, with 13 percent to 14 percent.
Few results were available late Sunday, and officials didn’t expect to report the final count until morning.
“This political force has been voted by the majority, but we’ll have to go into a runoff,” Vazquez told supporters after the exit polls were released. “It’s a huge recognition to the nine years of the Broad Front’s government. … Uruguay will now have to decide between five more years of progressivism, or another type of government.”
Cannabist special reports from Uruguay
Uruguayans also voted for lawmakers. Exit polls predicted the Broad Front lost its legislative majority, but Vazquez said that he expected his coalition to retain it.
As Uruguay’s first socialist president, Vazquez was the first person to break 170 years of control by the long dominant Colorado and National parties. He pursued moderate economic policies that helped Uruguay outpace neighbors while improving life for the poor.
He left office with high popularity ratings that put his party’s candidate, Jose Mujica, in the president’s office. This time, Vazquez has vowed to continue with the Broad Front’s social welfare plans during its decade in power.
Mujica, who was barred by the constitution from running for a second consecutive term, remains popular after steering Uruguay through a period of economic growth and rises in wages. He also gained worldwide notice for social reforms such as the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage. But critics say his administration failed to deal with problems in education, security and environmental protection — all pillars of his presidential agenda.
Lacalle Pou campaigned on a promise to tackle rising crime, improve education and modify the law that Mujica spearheaded to create the world’s first national marketplace for legal marijuana. Although he would still allow consumers to grow pot plants at home for personal use, he said he would end the government’s role in the production and sale of marijuana.
“What’s being done well, we’ll continue doing well, and what’s wrong, we’ll fix and do well now,” Lacalle Pou said Sunday night.
Rising crime has raised security concerns among the South American nation’s 3.2 million citizens. In education, Uruguay’s students test among the worst in the world for mathematics, science and reading comprehension.
According to the exit polls, Uruguayans voted against changing the constitution to lower the age a person can be criminally charged as an adult from 18 to 16.