URUGUAY

Uruguayans begin voting to elect new president

Uruguayans began voting Sunday in a presidential election, in which an ex-guerrilla leader who was shot nine times and twice escaped from jail during the military dictatorship has a good chance of winning.

Advertising

AFP - Uruguayans began voting Sunday in a presidential election, in which an ex-guerrilla leader who was shot nine times and twice escaped from jail during the military dictatorship has a good chance of winning.

Polls opened throughout the South American country at 8:00 am (1000 GMT) and were expected to close at 7:30 pm (2130 GMT).

Jose Mujica, 74, candidate for the incumbent Broad Front party, may get the nod from the country's 2.6 million voters in the first round of balloting.

He needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a November 29 runoff against either of his main rivals, conservative former president Luis Lacalle, 68, from the National Party, or Pedro Bordaberry, 49, son of the country's 1973-1975 dictator representing the Colorado Party.

Surveys put the rotund, scruffy and gray-haired Mujica -- better known in Uruguay, population 3.3 million, by his nickname "Pepe" -- well ahead of his rivals and within striking distance of an outright win on Sunday.

If Mujica does triumph, analysts believe he will continue left-wing economic policies introduced by outgoing President Tabare Vazquez, who is ending his five-year term on a wave of popularity but who is barred from re-election.

For Mujica, ascending to the presidency would be vindication for the wrongs he suffered under Uruguay's brutal 1973-1985 dictatorship.

As one of the founders of the Tupamaros urban rebel movement, Mujica was shot nine times, and was jailed in 1970 by the country's then democratic authorities as they set about largely crushing his group.

After twice escaping jail and being recaptured, he ended up behind bars and enduring long periods of solitary confinement as one of the prisoners of the military regime that took power in 1973, in part responding to Tupamaro radicalism.

Mujica was freed under a general amnesty issued in 1985 when democracy was restored.

Married to a senator who is also a former Tupamaro, Mujica became a lawmaker in 1995 after the ex-rebel group became a political party and joined the leftwing Broad Front.

Alongside the presidential balloting on Sunday will be a referendum on whether the country should drop an amnesty against military and police personnel accused of crimes during the junta era.

A recent poll shows that 47 percent of voters back the proposal, and 40 percent are against.

During the Vazquez government 10 former members of the dictatorship were sentenced to prison, including Uruguay's last military dictator, Gregorio Alvarez, who was given a 25-year prison sentence for murder and rights violations.
 

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning