Tue, Dec 02, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Uruguayan ex-president Vazquez wins runoff vote

MARIJUANA MAVERICK:The win means a plan to create a state-run marijuana market is on track. However, he calmed fears he would impose constitutional change


Uruguayan President-elect Tabare Vazquez gestures during a celebration rally in Montevideo, after learning that he had won the election on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

Former Uruguayan president Tabare Vazquez’s victory in the presidential election is a show of support for the leftist coalition that has governed the country for the past decade and allows the government to proceed with its plan to create the world’s first state-run marijuana marketplace.

Vazquez, a 74-year-old oncologist who was president from 2005 to 2010, topped National Party presidential candidate Luis Lacalle Pou by 53 perecent to 40 percent in Sunday’s vote.

The runoff vote drew international attention after Lacalle Pou promised to undo much of the pioneering plan to put the government in charge of regulating the production, distribution and sale of marijuana on a nationwide scale.

Vazquez said he would proceed with it, unless it produced negative results.

As results came in, Lacalle Pou called Vazquez to concede and wish him “great success,” while supporters of Vazquez’s Broad Front coalition poured into the streets to celebrate.

In his victory speech, Vazquez called on the opposition to join him in a national accord to deal with the issues of public security, health and education.

“I want to be able to count on all Uruguayans, but not so they follow me, so they guide me, accompany me.”

Sunday’s win marked a reversal of roles for Vazquez, who shook up Uruguayan politics when he became president the first time, peacefully ending 170 years of two-party dominance.

In his first presidential campaign, Vazquez promised changes that would “shake the roots of the trees.” However, he governed as a relatively cautious moderate, avoiding the constitutional changes and polarization that have shaken countries such as Venezuela.

His popularity on leaving office paved the way for the election of his successor, Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, a former guerrilla known for his humble lifestyle and straight talk. Both men belong to the Broad Front coalition, which has been in power for a decade and has passed laws on same-sex marriage, abortion and marijuana.

This time around, Mujica’s popularity and a strong economy helped propel Vazquez into office, where he is now seen as the candidate of continuity, not of change.

Vazquez immediately moved to calm fears that he would introduce radical change in his second term.

“Within the constitution and the law everything. Outside the constitution and the law nothing,” he told party militants after his win was announced.

Lacalle Pou is the son of former Uruguayan president Luis Alberto Lacalle Herrera, who governed from 1990 to 1995.

During his campaign, he criticized the marijuana plan, saying he would shut down the state-run marijuana market, while allowing domestic cultivation of the plant. Polls show that despite its international popularity, most Uruguayans oppose the marijuana laws and want them repealed.

Lacalle Pou was hobbled by some voters’ wariness of a return to the traditional parties.

Vazquez grew up in a working class neighborhood of Montevideo and went on to earn a medical degree. He continued seeing patients one day a week during his previous presidency, but said he would give up medicine to focus on the presidency if elected.

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