AS/COA Online - José Mujica Victorious in Uruguay's Runoff Election

José “Pepe” Mujica of the governing Broad Front (FA) won Sunday’s runoff election against former President Luis Alberto Calle of the National Party. With 97 percent of the votes in, the country’s electoral court showed Mujica pulling in 53 percent against 43 percent for Lacalle. During campaigns, Lacalle suggested Mujica would take Uruguay down a left-leaning road modeled on the path of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. But Mujica has inidcated he will follow in the footsteps of current President Tabaré Vázquez, whose approval rating exceeds 70 percent.

Though Mujica won nearly 18 percent more of the votes then his main contender during the first round on October 25, he failed to pull in more than half the votes, leading to Sunday’s runoff. Though October’s tallies may have indicated an easy win for Mujica, a potential electoral vulnerability resulted from the large number of undecided voters paired with the possibility of Lacalle gaining the votes of his along with those of the Colorado Party. Lacalle sought to capitalize on this vulnerability by identifying Mujica as a Chávez follower. But, as The Christian Science Monitor reported, Mujica dismissed the idea, instead referring to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as his model.

Mujica, a former agriculture minister, was a member of the Tupamaro guerilla group and imprisoned during the military regimes that governed during the 1970s and 1980s. He used his victory speech to heal rifts with other candidates and called for reconciliation. When he takes office in March, the new president will have the backing of Congress, where the FA and the Progressive Encounter command a majority. The coalition secured 50 seats in the lower house and nine senatorial seats during the October election.

The current president’s high approval ratings likely gave Mujica a boost at the polls. Vázquez, the first FA candidate to win Uruguay’s presidency, is credited with successfully steering the country through the troubled waters of the current global financial crisis. Since he took office in 2005, unemployment fell from 12.3 percent to 7.3 percent in September and Central Bank reserves have nearly quadrupled. The International Monetary Fund predicts Uruguay will be one of the few Latin American countries that will experience GDP growth this year. The choice of former Economy Minister Danilo Astori as the vice presidential candidate signaled to voters that Mujica will follow similar fiscal policies as his predecessor.