Ex-rebel Mujica says Uruguay vote headed to runoff


Former guerrilla leader Jose Mujica, who is running in first place in Uruguay’s presidential election, said on Sunday he expects to go to a run-off in November.

Exit polls showed him falling short of the 50 percent of votes needed for an outright first-round victory.

Mujica had around 48 percent of the vote followed by center-right opposition candidate and former president Luis Lacalle with between 28 and 30 percent, according to data from the Factum, Equipos and Cifra polling groups.

“Uruguayans are asking us to make an extra effort, in other words to face a second round vote,” Mujica, a senator from the ruling Broad Front leftist coalition, said on television.

The second round would be between Mujica, 74, who fought with the Tupamaros guerrilla movement during the 1960s and early 1970s, and Lacalle, who led Uruguay from 1990 to 1995 and sought to capitalize on some voter resistance to Mujica’s militant past.

The winner will replace President Tabare Vazquez, Uruguay’s first socialist leader, who leaves office highly popular after five years of vigorous economic expansion in the small, beef-exporting country between Brazil and Argentina.

Mujica is competing for the presidency as part of the Broad Front coalition, a grouping of socialists and other leftist parties that came to power four years ago in South America’s regionwide political shift to the left.

Some Uruguayan business leaders worry that he could steer Uruguay more sharply to the left even though he has pledged to stay on a free-market track.

Mujica has sought to temper the concerns about his days as a guerrilla. “We’re all in the same boat,” he said after voting on Sunday.

Uruguay, like Chile and Brazil, has become a model of stability and moderate leftism in Latin America, as other countries have elected more radical leaders.

Mujica was held in solitary confinement for years during Uruguay’s 1975-83 military dictatorship for his activities with the Tupamaros, who carried out political kidnappings and robberies. He has never spoken publicly about the extent of his role.

His sometimes blunt off-the-cuff comments have raised questions among some Uruguayans about his ability to lead the country.

Hoping to reach out to the business community, Mujica turned to Vazquez’s former economy minister, Danilo Astori, as his vice-presidential running mate.

Astori won investor praise for his guidance of the largely agricultural-based economy, and Mujica has said he wants Astori to play a key role in shaping economic policy.

Under Vazquez, the Uruguayan economy has attracted millions of dollars in foreign investment in soy farming and cattle ranching.

Lacalle, a 68-year-old lawyer, has engineered a political comeback 14 years after leaving office amid corruption accusations involving several of his top aides.

Thompson Reuters

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