Uruguay's presidential election appears to be headed to a November showdown. Exit polls showed leftist coalition candidate Tabare Vazquez falling short of the 50 percent majority needed to avoid a runoff.
Exit polls taken Sunday revealed Uruguay's ruling leftist coalition candidate Tabare Vazquez (left in photo above) with a commanding lead in the country's presidential election, but failing to attain the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff with challenger Luis Lacalle Pou.
Polling firm Consultora Factorum showed Broad Front party candidate Vasquez garnering 46 percent of the vote compared to conservative National Party candidate Lacalle Pou's 31 percent. A separate poll by Equipos Consultores projected Vazquez had won 44 percent of the vote and Lacalle Pou 33 percent.
Pedro Bordaberry of the center-right Colorado Party came in third place with between 13 and 14 percent of the vote according to exit polls, and would miss a potential runoff.
If the projections hold, a run-off election between Vazquez and Lacalle Pou would be held on November 30, and public opinion polls taken in the run-up to Sunday's vote showed such an election would be tightly contested.
The 74-year-old Vasquez was president of Uruguay from 2005-2010 but was constitutionally barred from seeking a second consecutive term. A former cancer doctor, Vasquez helped bring the left-leaning Broad Front to power and presided over a reduction in poverty and an expansion of social welfare policies.
"We are hoping for the best, but the people will have their say," Vasquez said as he prepared to cast his ballot.
Polls show Luis Lacalle Pou of the center-right National Party would run neck and neck with Vazquez in a potential runoff
The vote will determine who succeeds current president Jose Mujica, a former leftist guerilla fighter and Vasquez ally who has been in power since 2010.
Mujica has instituted a number of liberal social reforms, most controversially the legalization of both the consumption and production of marijuana. The law has prompted criticism by some voters.
"So we are killing babies now and the state will sell marijuana," said Adriana Herrera, a 68-year-old retiree. "My frustration is not just with the handout policies but also with the laws that have been approved that are terrible for the country."
Lacalle Pou has said he would work to repeal the law legalizing the production and consumption of marijuana if elected. The 41-year-old newcomer ran a campaign promising to improve education and reduce crime.
"We are very happy with the campaign," Lacalle Pou said.
A nation of 3.3 million wedged between Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay has one of the highest standards of living in South America.
bw/jm (AP, Reuters, AFP)