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Uruguay election heads to runoff

Former guerrilla Jose 'Pepe' Mujica receives the most votes, but not enough to avoid a runoff against former President Luis Alberto Lacalle.

October 26, 2009|Associated Press

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY — A blunt-talking former guerrilla seeking to maintain the left's hold on power in Uruguay easily got the most votes in presidential elections Sunday, but failed to win the majority needed to avoid a runoff.

Jose "Pepe" Mujica received about 48% of the votes, compared with 30% for former President Luis Alberto Lacalle, a free-marketeer who wants to cut government and taxes and reduce alliances with Latin American leftists.

Two voter initiatives -- one to remove amnesty for human rights abuses under the 1973-85 dictatorship and another to allow mail-in votes by citizens living outside Uruguay -- also failed to win majorities, according to exit polls by Cifra, Factum and Equipos Mori.

Mujica and his vice presidential candidate, Danilo Astori, acknowledged that a runoff would be necessary but expressed optimism. They noted that even if Lacalle picked up all the votes of right-wing third-place finisher Pedro Bordaberry, Sunday's margin would still give the ruling Broad Front the edge in the second round of voting Nov. 29.

"We're going to fight for the whole nation," Mujica said, "so that the economy works, and also provides for the people who have the least."

In many ways, Uruguayans were voting for their visions of the past as well as the future. And although Mujica's life story -- from armed revolutionary to someone trying to change the system from within -- clearly resonated with some voters, it also repelled others.

Mujica was a leader of the Tupamaro guerrillas, who were inspired by the Cuban revolution to organize kidnappings, bombings, robberies and other attacks on the conservative but democratically elected governments of the 1960s. Convicted of killing a policeman in 1971, he endured torture and solitary confinement during nearly 15 years in prison.

In the quarter-century since he was freed, Mujica has helped transform the guerrillas into a legitimate political movement and the driving force within the leftist Broad Front coalition.

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