The Newcomers Shaking Up Uruguay’s Election

BY NICOLÁS SALDÍAS | Americas Quarterly

A host of new faces and parties are adding uncertainty to this year’s presidential race.

Ernesto Talvi

Two men from the same political coalition have governed Uruguay since 2005. But with the Oct. 27 presidential election approaching, the country is seeing a rare shake-up of its usually staid and predictable politics.

In fact, new faces and parties are challenging traditional stalwarts and the established political order. That includes the recent resurgence of the once-dominant Colorado Party with the primary victory of outsider Ernesto Talvi, as well as the emergence of a right-wing nationalist party and the ruling coalition’s choice of a little-known city councilmember as its vice presidential nominee. 

A loss of momentum for the governing Frente Amplio (Broad Front) coalition helps explain the new space for challenges to the old guard. After 15 years, the Broad Front’s approval ratings are near historic lows as Uruguay’s economy is stagnant, unemployment is high, crime is rising and the country’s position on Venezuela has isolated it from much of the rest of the region. In an open primary on June 30, voter turnout for the Broad Front was 14% lower than in 2014, even as overall turnout for the primaries increased by 9%.

The biggest beneficiary of the Broad Front’s ebb in support is Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, a senator and son of a former president. Lacalle Pou won the nomination for the center-right National Party in June with, by far, the most votes of any candidate in the country. The party is polling second to the Broad Front and in a hypothetical runoff, polls have Lacalle Pou beating the Broad Front’s candidate, former Montevideo mayor Daniel Martínez.

But while Lacalle Pou’s ascendance was expected – he was runner-up in Uruguay’s last presidential election – it was Talvi’s candidacy that surprised many by upending the race for Uruguay’s third party. Since presiding over the economic collapse of 2002, the Colorado Party had endured disappointing electoral results and a lack of renovation in the party’s leadership and ideas. For almost a decade, the party was led by Pedro Bordaberry, son of former dictator Juan María Bordaberry.

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