Uruguay presidential vote: Conservative Oppn runs ahead

Suporters of National Party presidential candidate Luis Lacalle Pou wait for the results after the second-round presidential election, in Montevideo, Uruguay November 24, 2019. (Photo by REUTERS)

Uruguay's conservative opposition held a slim lead on Sunday in a run-off presidential election between the liberal ruling party and a resurgent opposition that had been the pre-vote favourite to clinch victory.

With around 97.5% of polling booths counted, Luis Lacalle Pou's center-right National Party had 48.81% ahead of Daniel Martinez's ruling Broad Front party with 47.41%, data from the official electoral court showed.

The slimmer-than-expected gap meant an official result could be delayed until early next week. Pre-election polls had made Lacalle Pou, whose father is a former president, favorite to topple the long-standing coalition that has led farm-driven Uruguay through a period of stability and growth.

Some 2.7 million Uruguayan voters were eligible to choose, with a widespread expectation that the South American nation was set for a shift back towards the right after around 15 years of liberal rule.

As pre-election campaigns closed last week Lacalle Pou, a 46-year-old, had struck a confident tone, saying Uruguay was demanding change. Pre-election polls show him beating Martinez by a margin of 6-8 points.

"It's the people...saying 'I want to shake up the government's drowsiness and change it,'" said Lacalle Pou, who became the front-runner after striking deals with a string of allies following an October first round.

Martinez, a 62-year-old former Montevideo mayor, has said the five-party coalition against him is simply an attempt to dislodge the liberal government.

He has also warned about "fundamentalist" policies taking Uruguay sharply to the right, "ending up like in Argentina or Brazil."

Uruguay's current President Tabare Vazquez has been in power since 2015, but has recently had to grapple with a sluggish economy weighed down by the effects of drought and flooding on the crucial farm sector.

Amid wider regional unrest in Bolivia and Chile, Uruguay remains stable, but a slowing economy saw growth of just 0.1% in the second quarter of the year.

Unemployment has also edged up to 9.2% versus a year earlier, while inflation this year so far has been 8.36%.

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