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Conservative Lacalle Pou wins Uruguay presidential election, ending 15 years of leftist rule

National Party presidential candidate Luis Lacalle Pou looks on after the second-round presidential election, in Montevideo, Uruguay, November 25, 2019.
National Party presidential candidate Luis Lacalle Pou looks on after the second-round presidential election, in Montevideo, Uruguay, November 25, 2019. Mariana Greif/REUTERS

Center-right candidate Luis Lacalle Pou won Uruguay's presidential election Thursday after his rival conceded, bringing an end to 15 years of leftist rule in the South American country. 

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Daniel Martinez, candidate for the ruling Broad Front, recognized that an ongoing vote recount would not affect his already slim chance of victory and conceded.

"We greet president-elect Luis Lacalle Pou, with whom I will have a meeting tomorrow," Martinez wrote in a tweet. "I thank everyone who placed their trust in us by casting their vote for us from the bottom of my heart."

Lacalle Pou's National Party acknowledged victory in a tweet saying: "Now it's our turn, let's celebrate everybody's Uruguay!"

The news set off a cacophony of horn-blowing in downtown Montevideo by Lacalle Pou supporters.

Lacalle Pou, a business-friendly conservative, will take power on March 1 at the head of a right-wing coalition of five parties.

The president-elect has been holding talks with party leaders on the makeup of the new government.

Ernesto Talvi, leader of the Colorado Party, is expected to be named Uruguay's foreign minister, the daily El Pais reported.

The election result signals a significant shift in foreign policy, with the incoming right-wing administration making no secret of their intention to recognize Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president and the socialist Nicolas Maduro as illegitimate.

The move will reverse current Uruguay policy under President Tabaré Vázquez, which - contrary to most Latin American governments - continues to recognize Maduro as president.

Guaido saluted Lacalle Pou's victory on Thursday. "We know that we have your support in the struggle for democratic restoration that we wage in Venezuela," Guaido said in a tweet.

Recount call

Martinez had refused to concede on Sunday when the election was deemed too close to call by the electoral court, with just 30,000 votes separating the candidates.

The court ordered a recount on the grounds that the number of provisional or contested votes - around 35,000 - exceeded the margin between the candidates.

Lacalle Pou told supporters he was confident his victory would be confirmed, however.

Opinion polls since last month's first round had indicated the 46-year-old former senator would comfortably win the run-off.

But with almost all the votes counted, his lead over Martinez, a 62-year-old former Montevideo mayor, was just over 1 percent.

The electoral court is expected to declare the official result today, El Pais reported, which would confirm defeat for the long-dominant leftist ruling Broad Front coalition after 15 years in power.

The coalition of leftist movements can point to a record of progressive government since it broke a decades-long conservative stranglehold with an election victory in 2005.

Tiny Uruguay stood out on the international stage by approving abortion and gay marriage, and the small nation pioneered the legalization of cannabis in 2013.

But Lacalle Pou tapped into voter concerns over the country's high tax rates and concerns over creeping insecurity.

Uruguay has long been considered a bastion of peace and stability in an often turbulent region.

But public safety has been eroding, with a sharp rise in some violent crimes reported last year.

The new president's main challenge will be fiscal, according to Robert Wood, Latin America manager for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

"Public debt is rising as the fiscal deficit nears 5 percent of GDP," said Wood.

"Mr. Lacalle Pou will pursue this mainly through spending cuts. His congressional majority raises prospects of passage of labor and other market-friendly reforms, but unions, the political left and vested interests will provide resistance.

"Piecemeal progress on reforms is probable, helping to lift the economy, which has been flat since 2018."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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