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Lacalle Pou’s victory in Uruguay strengthens regional centre right

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After an extremely close vote obliged the Electoral Court to execute an official recount, the conservative candidate emerges victorious by a narrow margin. His election marks a change in power and a shift to the right in Argentina’s neighbouring country.

Conservative presidential candidate for the Partido Nacional Luis Lacalle Pou will be Uruguay’s next president, the Electoral Court confirmed today.

The conserative Partido Nacional leader won the presidential run-off on November 24, his victory marking the first shift to the right in Argentina’s neighbour in 15 years. 

The race was tight. Only 28,666 votes separated Lacalle Pou from leftist candidate Daniel Martínez, running for the ruling Frente Amplio (“Broad Front”) coalition. 

Such a close margin required the Electoral Court to undertake another official count that started Tuesday, with final results fully tallied by Thursday.

According to the court’s president José Arocena, there had “never been such a tight vote.” 

Lacalle Pou, a career politician and son of a former president, will begin his term on March 1, 2020. Martínez congratulated him on his victory on Thursday,

“The evolution of the vote count hasn’t changed the trend,” Martinez wrote on Twitter. “Therefore we salute President-elect Luis Lacalle Pou with whom I’ll have a meeting tomorrow.”

With a difference of just 1.2 percentage points in a preliminary count, Martinez had refused to concede until the electoral court finished its final count. The electoral court has not yet published its final results.

A swing to the centre

One of South America’s wealthiest nations, Uruguay had already started its swing more to the right in the October 27 general elections that saw the Frente Amplio lose control of Congress for the first time since 2005.

Lacalle Pou’s victory is part of a recent anti-incumbent backlash in the region that has seen Latin Americans vote for change, whether it be from the right or the left. It also comes at a time of increased volatility in South America with violent protests erupting in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile.

The result in Uruguay means that the right will govern in three of the four countries that constitute the South American trading bloc known as Mercosur. That could leave Argentina’s president-elect, left-wing populist Alberto Fernández, isolated when he takes office next month.

The bloc is already under strain following comments from President Jair Bolsonaro casting doubt on whether Brazil will even stay in Mercosur.

Uruguay can’t afford to lose its Mercosur export market if the bloc collapses, but at the same time it needs Mercosur to negotiate more trade deals with the rest of the world, Ignacio Bartesaghi, dean of the Catholic University of Uruguay’s business sciences school, said in an interview.

“When there are two players like Argentina and Brazil with so much weight and two presidents that are so far apart like Fernandez and Bolsonaro, it’s Uruguay that can mediate,” he said. “Argentina needs an ally to prevent Bolsonaro’s extreme position becoming reality.”

Sputtering economy

The 46-year-old former lawmaker and heir to one of Uruguay’s oldest political dynasties will start his five-year term on March 1 as the head of a broad five-party “multicolor coalition” spanning the centre-left to the far-right. The grouping will have ample majorities in both houses of Congress.

Lacalle Pou, who has already named three ministers, including former debt management director Azucena Arbeleche as his finance minister, said he will fill the rest of his Cabinet by mid-December.

The new government will inherit an economy on a slightly stronger footing thanks to outgoing President Tabaré Vázquez’s efforts to secure US$5 billion of investment in public works and the construction of a massive pulp mill. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecast growth of 1.5 percent next year and 2 percent in 2021, compared with a meagre 0.3 percent this year.

Source: Bloomberg

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