Uruguay election: tight race between left and right as vote count begins

MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) – Uruguay’s presidential candidates were neck-and-neck as early vote count data trickled in on Sunday night in a run-off vote between the liberal ruling party and a resurgent conservative opposition that had been favorite to clinch victory.

A man casts his ballot at a polling station in El Cerro, Montevideo, Uruguay November 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mariana Greif

After polls closed at 7:30pm local time (2230 GMT), exit polls gave mixed signals. Two showed Luis Lacalle Pou’s center-right National Party holding a slim lead. A third had Daniel Martinez of the ruling Broad Front party just ahead.

The seemingly tighter-than-expected race comes after pre-election polls had made Lacalle Pou, whose father is a former president, distant favorite to topple the long-standing coalition that has led farm-driven Uruguay through a period of stability and relative, though recently cooling, growth.

Some 2.7 million Uruguayan voters were eligible to choose, with widespread expectation that the South American nation was likely a shift back towards the right after around 15 years of liberal rule.

As pre-election campaigns closed last week Lacalle Pou, a 46-year-old, had struck a confident tone, saying Uruguay was demanding change. Pre-election polls show him beating Martinez by a margin of 6-8 points.

“It’s the people…saying ‘I want to shake up the government’s drowsiness and change it,’” said Lacalle Pou, who became the front-runner after striking deals with a string of allies following an October first round.

Martinez, a 62-year-old former Montevideo mayor, has said the five-party coalition against him is simply an attempt to dislodge the liberal government.

He has also warned about “fundamentalist” policies taking Uruguay sharply to the right, “ending up like in Argentina or Brazil.”

Amid wider regional unrest in Bolivia and Chile, Uruguay remains stable, but a slowing economy saw growth of just 0.1% in the second quarter of the year.

Unemployment has also edged up to 9.2% versus a year earlier, while inflation this year so far has been 8.36%.

Reporting by Fabian Werner; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Mark Potter and Alistair Bell

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