Uruguay voters pick Vazquez as Mujica successor

Uruguay voters pick Vazquez as Mujica successor

Monday, December 1, 2014 7:09 am

President Jose Mujica of Uruguay

President Jose Mujica of Uruguay

Uruguay’s ex-president Tabare Vazquez comfortably won a new term in a runoff election Sunday, extending the left’s decade in power — though not necessarily incumbent Jose Mujica’s groundbreaking marijuana law.

Vazquez, a 74-year-old cancer doctor who served as president from 2005 to 2010, won 52.8 percent of the vote with all the ballots counted to see off his center-right opponent, the 41-year-old lawmaker Luis Lacalle Pou.

In a victory speech before cheering supporters undaunted by the driving rain, Vazquez — who had been the firm favorite — called for a new approach to face the country’s “new challenges.”

“It won’t be just more of the same because Uruguay today isn’t the same as in 2005 or 2010,” he told the crowd after Lacalle Pou, a former president’s son and a passionate surfer, conceded defeat with 40.5 percent support.

Vazquez vowed “more freedoms and more rights,” as well as “more economic, social and cultural development.”

The win consolidates the leftist Broad Front (FA) coalition’s hold on power and returns Vazquez, who swept them to office 10 years ago, to the helm. The colorful Mujica was barred from running because the constitution does not allow presidents consecutive terms.

Their FA retained its legislative majority in the first-round vote on October 26, including a senate seat for Mujica.

The small South American country will now watch to see how Vazquez, a straight-laced politician with a formal style, handles the takeover from Mujica, a former guerrilla fighter famous for living in a run-down farmhouse and donating most of his salary to charity.

– Marijuana law in doubt –

Vazquez, who starts his new term on March 1, has at times clashed with Mujica within the FA.

The president-elect cuts a much more sober figure than Mujica, who still drives around in his beat-up Volkswagen Beetle and is known as “the world’s poorest president.”

Mujica legalized abortion, gay marriage and marijuana sales during his administration.

But the marijuana law, his landmark initiative, may face an uncertain future in Vazquez’s hands.

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