Uruguay’s Pivotal 2024 Election

Uruguayans still have a few months to decide which direction their country will take in the next five-year presidential term: further economic liberalization or expansion of social welfare.

Image credit: Shutterstock / Alejo Bernal

Uruguay’s general elections on October 27 will determine its next President, Vice President and the composition of both legislative chambers. These elections are crucial as they mark the end of President Luis Lacalle Pou’s term in office and will indicate whether there will be a continuation of his liberal economic policies or whether there will be a prioritization of social welfare policies under the left-wing coalition Frente Amplio (FA).

President Lacalle Pou, in office since March 2020, cannot seek re-election due to constitutional limits on consecutive terms. Álvaro Delgado, former Secretary of the Presidency, is the National Party’s (PN) candidate.

His campaign emphasizes economic liberalization, reducing public sector employment, and enhancing trade relations, particularly with China. He envisions Uruguay as a gateway for economic integration between China and MERCOSUR countries.

Delgado’s plan includes reducing public sector employment by 15,000 workers to improve efficiency and cut government spending.

This pragmatic approach, though conservative, highlights the significant economic opportunities that stronger trade relations with China could bring to Uruguay.

Frente Amplio’s comeback?

Polls suggest a favorable outcome for the left-wing coalition FA, with an expected 43% voter support compared to the PN’s 30%. The FA, which governed from 2005 to 2020, could make a comeback.

Despite losing the presidency in 2020, it remains the largest party in Uruguay’s General Assembly. Currently, the FA holds 13 of 30 Senate seats and 42 of 99 seats in the Chamber of Representatives.

However, it is in opposition due to the PN’s coalition with the Colorado Party and Open Cabildo. This coalition has secured a majority in both chambers.

This dynamic suggests that even if the FA wins the presidency, the PN party could still control the General Assembly, creating a complex political landscape.

Continuation of Lacalle Pou’s Policies?

Lacalle Pou’s administration marked a departure from the expansive social programs and progressive policies of the FA. His government focused on economic liberalization, public sector efficiency, and tougher security measures.

The “Urgent Consideration Law” of 2022 introduced reforms across various sectors, including security, education, and labor.

Delgado promises to continue Lacalle Pou’s policies, emphasizing economic efficiency and strong trade relations with China.

This pragmatic approach prioritizes economic benefits over ideological alignments, positioning Uruguay as a key player in regional and global trade.

Foreign relations, corruption, public safety

Foreign trade and international relations will be pivotal in the upcoming elections. The PN’s focus on strengthening ties with China contrasts with the FA’s historical emphasis on diplomatic relations with Brazil, Argentina, Cuba, and Venezuela.

Meanwhile, corruption remains a critical issue.

Lacalle Pou’s administration has been marred by scandals, notably involving Alejandro Astesiano, his chief security officer, who was arrested for leading a criminal ring issuing fake passports.

Delgado, despite distancing himself from these controversies, may still face challenges due to his close association with the current administration.

Public safety is also a significant concern, particularly with rising crime rates in urban areas like Montevideo.

The government has implemented tougher security policies, yet public safety remains a central issue in political debates.

Candidates propose various measures to improve safety, including joint task forces against organized crime and adopting international models.

Social policies also dominate the electoral discussions.

The Frente Amplio’s commitment to expanding social services contrasts sharply with the National Party’s focus on efficiency and cost-cutting.

The FA proposes ambitious social reforms to address challenges like child poverty and food insecurity, advocating for increased cash transfers, expanded welfare programs, and state-guaranteed jobs.

Yamandú Orsi, the FA’s candidate

The FA chose Yamandú Orsi as its candidate for the elections, after defeating Carolina Cosse (30%) with 60% of the votes in the party’s primaries held at the end of June.

Orsi, mayor of the city of Canelones, has focused his campaign in the primaries on talking about social justice, investment in education and attracting international business and investment.

For her part, Cosse, who will be the FA’s vice-presidential candidate, has emphasized drug trafficking, improving social welfare programs and fighting poverty by increasing cash transfers and job creation.

The agenda of both politicians is very different from that of the PN, so Uruguayans still have a few months to decide which direction their country will take in the next five-year presidential term: further economic liberalization or expansion of social welfare.