November run-off scheduled despite wide Mujica lead

Former guerrilla leader Jose Mujica led his rivals in Sunday's presidential election by a wide margin but fell short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a November 29 run-off.


AFP - Former guerrilla Jose Mujica came out on top in Uruguay's presidential vote Sunday, but fell short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a November runoff against ex-president Luis Lacalle, media exit polls said.

"There will be a runoff," said Channel 12 pollster Luis Gonzalez.

The channel's exit polls gave the incumbent Broad Front party candidate, aged 74, 47 percent of the votes, followed by the National Party conservative Lacalle, 68, with 30 percent and the Colorado Party's Pedro Bordaberry, 49, with 17 percent.

Factum Poll official Oscar Botinelli gave Mujica 47-49 percent of the vote, Lacalle 29-31 percent and Bordaberry 17-18 percent. Bordaberry is the son of Uruguay's 1973-1975 dictator Juan Maria Bordaberry.

A November 29 runoff would be held between the two top vote getters -- Mujica and Lacalle.

Polls officially closed at 2130 GMT and official preliminary results are expected in the predawn hours Monday.

Mujica conceded he was heading for a runoff.

"Society demands we make one more effort: take part in a runoff," Mujica told a press conference after the polls closed.

Ever confident, the rotund, scruffy and gray-haired Mujica and vice-presidential running mate Danilo Astori said their's was "a very optimistic starting point for the runoff."

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

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

As a founder 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 to largely crush his group.

After twice escaping jail and being recaptured, he ended up behind bars and enduring 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.

If elected, he would be only the second former guerrilla to take power through the ballot box in Latin America, following Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.

But his guerrilla past is a sore point with conservatives in this small, temperate nation of 3.4 million wedged between Argentina and Brazil.

"They want to transform Uruguay into a communist, socialist country. I hope Mujica does not win, because I would not vote for subversives, thieves and assassins," Raquel Rodriguez, an 82-year-old retiree, said Sunday after voting for Bordaberry.

But analysts depict Mujica as much more a reformer than a revolutionary.

A former agriculture minister, he has promised to continue the policies of the outgoing government, which halved unemployment and strengthened minority rights, including laws allowing homosexuals to form civil unions and adopt children.

Saturday, he praised the governing style of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a leftist whose moderate policies have eased early suspicions of the business sector.

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 left-wing Broad Front.

Along with presidential balloting on Sunday, Uruguayans said no to repealing an amnesty law for military and police accused of human rights violations during the junta era.

They also rejected a measure that would have allowed some half a million Uruguayans living abroad to vote in national elections.

Uruguayans on Sunday also voted to renew their two chambered General Assembly -- 99 deputies and 31 senators.


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