Sexuality Policy Watch

The 2019 election in Uruguay: a new relation of forces

Luis Lacalle Pou (National Party) and Guido Manini Ríos (Cabildo Abierto)

By Santiago Puyol*

The elections held in Uruguay on Sunday, October 27th, represented the greatest news for the Uruguayan political system fifteen years after the victory of the left-wing coalition Frente Amplio in the 2004 elections. For the first time since its victory, the government party lost Parliamentary majority, registering its lowest vote in the last two decades, reaching 39.2% of the total votes. Despite this, it still remains the main force, followed by the National Party, which is in second place with more than ten points of difference (28.5%). In third place was the Colorado Party (12.3%), another historical political force in Uruguay, and in fourth place the debuting party Cabildo Abierto (10.9%).

Daniel Martínez (Frente Amplio) and Luis Lacalle Pou (National Party) must contest the presidency in a second instance of voting, on Sunday, November 24, since none reached more than 50 percent of the votes required by the Uruguayan Constitution for the first-round victory.

The main novelties of the post-electoral scenario in Uruguay are the fragmentation of the party system (for the first time since the return to democracy, seven parties secured Parliamentary representation) and the increase in volatility, accompanying an apparent process of “shift to the right” in the electorate that seems to arrive “late” in the country after having shaken the rest of the region.

The emergence of Cabildo Abierto, composed of a military base, with direct and indirect links to the past civic-military dictatorship and with some neo-Nazi groups, changes the relation of forces and breaks the moderate multiparty format of three large parties that prevailed since the democratic restoration in 1985.

Formally, this party has six months of existence, although its constitutive bases (the Artiguist Social Movement group [1]) have been operating in the organized civil society level for at least a couple of years. Its leader, Guido Manini Ríos was the Commander in Chief of the National Army until he was dismissed by the current president Tabaré Vázquez months ago, after repeated sanctions, in the midst of a scandal linked to crimes against humanity committed during the last dictatorship [2]. Manini Ríos comes from a family with a long history in Uruguayan politics.

The antigender forces, which included two parties openly opposed to “gender ideology” (Open Council and the Green Animalist Party) and some other names in the National Party (the businessman sector led by Juan Sartori, to which the evangelical forces were integrated, and the sector of Carlos Iafigliola, the main proposer of the referendum attempt to repeal the Trans Persons Comprehensive Law [3] passed last year, which reached a total of 16% of the vote. Despite the referendum fail, two notes should be made in this regard:

  • This action, in fact, led to 13% of seats in the Senate (4 in 30; 3 of Cabildo Abierto and 1 of the National Party) and in the Chamber of Congressmen (13 of 99; 11 of the Open Cabildo and 2 of the National Party).
  • Although the sectors mentioned above are those that have specifically pronounced against the sexual and reproductive rights agenda, the leader of the National Party said that a possible government of his would have a “prolife agenda”. The National Party obtained 10 seats in the Senate and 30 in the Chamber of Deputies, which could translate into greater support for these groups.

It is also essential to point out that Cabildo Abierto, although it had a considerable amount of votes in all departments of the country (its minimum expression is 7.3% in the Cologne department), actually has strong roots in the north-central part of the country , particularly in the border departments with Brazil where it came to settle as third and even second most voted force, ranging between 17% and 24% of the votes cast. The “Bolsonaro” effect in Uruguayan politics must be studied without a doubt.

The weakening of Frente Amplio, which fell from 47.8% to 39.2% between the 2014 and this year’s elections, contributed to Cabildo Abierto’s emergence and other minority right-wing parties (particularly the People’s Party, of populist right, which secured one seat) can be read in the first instance as a result of a “right shift” of the Uruguayan electorate.

This statement must be qualified however, since there are two factors to consider:

  • The Colorado Party underwent a process of leadership transformation, in which Ernesto Talvi (the candidate for president in these elections) moved the party to the center, with a liberal imprint, in opposition with Pedro Bordaberry (candidate in the last elections) with a more conservative right profile who was isolated in this instance.
  • The expressions of the left within smaller parties (Radical Environmental Party Intransigente (PERI), Popular Unity, Workers Party) only reached 2.3% of the votes, and only PERI obtained parliamentary representation (one seat).

It is possible that part of the usual Frente Amplio electorate has voted for the Colorado Party, especially when Talvi campaigned by appealing to the Party’s Battlist tradition [4], one of the political currents that nurtured Frente Amplio since its creation. Although, in fact, the candidate’s sector has a strong neoliberal imprint, it could have reached — in terms of discourse — part of the center and even center-left electorate. These groups demonstrate impatience to maintain their vote for Frente Amplio.

*Santiago Puyol is a political scientist and is in charge of the Observatory of Gender and Sexual and Reproductive Health of MYSU – Women and Health Uruguay, monitoring and following-up on the implementation of public policies on sexual and reproductive health in Uruguay. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Science Udelar policies.





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