Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Five Points on Uruguay’s Legislative Vote

I was impressed by James Bosworth’s insightful analysis of Brazil’s election results, with “Five Points on Dilma.” Copying his style, here are five points on the first-round election in Brazil’s smaller neighbor to the south:

The FA keeps a majority: In a surprise twist that defies all of last week’s projections and opinion polls, Uruguay’s ruling Frente Amplio (FA) is poised to maintain effective control over both legislative houses for the next five years. Although a runoff between the FA’s Tabare Vazquez and National Party’s Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou will take place on November 30, Sunday’s vote determined the breakdown of 2015-2020 congressional seats by proportional representation. According to electoral officials, the results are: FA 47.9 percent, National Party 30.96 percent, Colorado Party 12.92 percent and Independent Party 3.07 percent. The Electoral Court still has to confirm the distribution of seats, but every major news outlet in the country (see El Pais, El ObservadorRadio Espectador and Radio 180) has reported that the FA has won 15 seats in the Senate and is sure to keep its 50 seats in the lower house. This gives them a guaranteed lower house majority, and if Vazquez wins the second round they will control the Senate (where they currently have 16 seats) as well, as the vice president casts the tie-breaking vote in the 30-member body. (Image credit: Montevideo Portal)

Vazquez gets a second wind: This is a huge boost not only for the Frente Amplio, but for Vazquez as well. His party’s list got four more points than those of the two largest opposition parties combined (the Colorado and National Party votes together have 43.88 percent compared to the Frente’s 47.9 percent). Because the bases of the Independent Party and smaller Popular Unity parties are center-left to leftist voters disenchanted with the FA, it is safe to assume the majority of their support will transfer to Vazquez as well. Factum’s recent runoff poll, which showed  the two candidates statistically tied at 48 percent for Vazquez and 47 percent for Lacalle Pou, no longer seems trustworthy, especially in light of all the major pollsters’ inability to predict Sunday’s outcome.

The Frente’s still got it (and its progressive laws are safe): As El Observador reports, this is the first time since the 1940s that a Uruguayan party stands to hold onto a legislative majority for three consecutive terms. Much of the international coverage of Uruguay’s election so far (see the New York Times, Reuters) has focused on the FA’s support of progressive yet controversial legislation as a reason for its potential defeat. Yet despite opposition to marijuana legalization, abortion decriminalization (and to a lesser degree) marriage equality from large segments of the country, these measures have so far not become hot-button issues. In addition to ensuring that these initiatives will remain in place, Sunday's vote confirms that the FA has a unique ability to push the envelope without taking a hit in the polls. This has been illustrated before, however, in the wake of the October 2012 law that decriminalized abortion. The measure was opposed by 46 percent of the country, and in April 2013 51 percent of Uruguayans said they would support holding a referendum on whether to repeal it. Yet just 8.9 percent of the electorate actually came out to support an eventual referendum in a June 2013 vote, essentially leaving the issue settled. 

NO a la Baja: The push to lower Uruguay’s age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16, which until recently looked guaranteed to pass, failed by six points (53 percent opposed and 46.99 in favor). Support for the initiative dropped significantly over the past year due largely to the efforts of the civil society coalition behind the creative “No a la Baja” campaign. The campaign also got a boost from Uruguay’s voting system, which required supporters of lowering the criminal responsibility age to present a slip indicating their preference alongside their party’s ballot list.  Not including it was counted as a “no” vote, so the fact that the Frente Amplio and second-largest segment of the National Party did not include the slips automatically with their own lists likely made an important impact.

“El Pepe” is popular:  Jose “Pepe” Mujica’s signature humble, plain-spoken image has served him well politically. Some 62 percent of Uruguay’s population views him favorably, and 58 percent approve of his government, according to an October Cifra poll. This support has also translated into backing for his Popular Participation Movement (MPP) sector of the Frente Amplio. As Radio Espectador reports, the MPP’s list was the most supported among FA voters, making it the largest single FA bloc in both houses. This bucks another historical trend, as most Uruguayan presidents see their party’s internal faction lose support after leaving office, according to El Observador


News Briefs
  • The AP has an analysis of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s slim victory margin in Sunday’s vote, which paired with the country’s fragmented Congress may make it difficult for her to act on her promise to push for political reforms and hold a national referendum to address demands for better public services and less corruption. The New York Times also offers a take on the results, pointing out that Rousseff’s narrow win highlights bitter divisions between the country’s rich and poor, as well as between northeast states and the more developed south.
  • Mexican investigators looking into the disappearance of the 43 missing students in Guerrero say that suspects in custody have led them to a mass grave site about 10 miles from where the disappeared were last seen. Mexico’s attorney general, meanwhile, has told the press that the protesting students were taken first to a police station and then to a nearby town, apparently while still alive.
  • As the peace talks in Havana progress, more FARC leaders are arriving at the negotiating table to give their two cents on the process, as Reuters noted last week. One of the latest and most controversial arrivals, according to the AFP, is alias “Edilson Romaña,” who is accused of orchestrating mass kidnappings for the rebels in recent years.
  • La Silla Vacia looks at the hurdles that Colombian civil society faces in creating a comprehensive “movement” by uniting the various victims’ associations in the country, a process that has been held up by the fact that the groups themselves are divided over the current peace talks.
  • Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights offers some insight into President Nicolas Maduro’s decision to remove Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez, which many believe is the result of pressure from Chavista “colectivos” upset at a police operation that killed one of their leaders earlier this month. David Smilde and Hugo Perez Hernaiz point out that the incident has troubling implications for governance in the country, as it is essentially a “conflict between security forces that think of themselves as the legitimate holders of the state’s monopoly on violence and groups of armed citizens who see themselves as legitimate defenders of the revolution.”
  • Maduro has added more details to the killing of PSUV Congressman Roberto Serra, claiming that corrupt police had a hand in the lawmaker’s murder, BBC Mundo reports. As a result of this development, El Nacional reports that Maduro has promised to reform the country’s police force, saying: “We haven’t reached the goal of having police that are 100 percent trustworthy to the people.”
  • The Washington Post reports on an interesting indication of the ways in which Bolivian President Evo Morales and his MAS party have altered the identity of the country’s Aymara indigenous. In recent years ,wealthy Aymara individuals have been increasingly embracing their heritage by promoting a colorful architectural style known as “New Andean,” which is transforming the landscape of the city of El Alto.
  • Syndicated columnist Andres Oppenheimer looks at the Buenos Aires government’s decision to move its city hall to one of the most neglected neighborhoods in the city in a bid to revitalize the area, a move he notes has worked in other cities around the hemisphere and might be applied successfully in Miami.