Uruguay has been voting for its next president amid a debate over whether or not marijuana should be legalized. The South American nation has implemented a series of liberal social reforms in recent years.
Uruguayans cast their ballots on Sunday in a presidential election that will decide whether or not the South American nation continues its decade-long shift to the political left, which has been accompanied by a significant reduction in poverty.
Tabare Vazquez (pictured) of the leftist Broad Front led the polls by a 12-point margin, with 43 percent of the electorate likely to vote for him. But that's still well short of the absolute majority needed to win outright. Luis Lacalle Pou of the conservative National Party, who currently has 31 percent of the voters behind him, will likely force a runoff.
A 74-year-old cancer doctor, Vazquez previously served as Uruguay's president from 2005-2010. His first term marked a historic break with the country's political past, which was dominated by the liberal Colorado and conservative Blanco (now National) parties.
Vazquez implemented a center-left program during his first term, mixing social-welfare reforms with pro-business economic policies. During his six years in office, Uruguay's poverty rate dropped sharply.
Debate over marijuana policy
Unable to run for re-election due to a ban on consecutive terms, Vazquez was succeeded by party compatriot Jose Mujica, a former leftist guerilla. Mujica's humble lifestyle made him widely popular. He lived in a modest home and donated 90 percent of his salary to the needy and small entrepreneurs.
Mujica supported a liberal social program, passing a law that legalized abortion and supporting a bill that would do the same for marijuana consumption. Vazquez said he opposed legalizing abortion, but supports legal cannabis.
National Party candidate Lacalle Pou, a 41-year-old lawyer, has sought to tap into discontent with the Broad Front's social policies. He opposes the legalization of marijuana and supports a conservative economic program that includes tax relief and a stronger role for the private sector.
A nation of 3.3 million wedged between Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay has one of the highest standards of living in South America.
slk/se (AFP, dpa, Reuters)