Viewing cable 08MONTEVIDEO679

08MONTEVIDEO6792008-12-08 12:17:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Montevideo

DE RUEHMN #0679/01 3431217
R 081217Z DEC 08
E.O. 12958: N/A 
¶1. (U) This telegram is sensitive but unclassified, and not 
for Internet distribution. 
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¶2. (SBU) Uruguay will hold presidential elections in October 
2009, and its campaign season has begun.  This cable offers a 
brief explanation of the electoral process and introduces the 
likely candidates.  Detailed information about specific 
positions on issues of possible interest to the U.S. of the 
major parties and their candidates will be provided septels. 
End Summary. 
The Basics: Parties and Process 
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¶3. (U) There are three principal political parties or 
movements in Uruguay: the ruling Frente Amplio (FA), which is 
a coalition of political parties of the left; the National 
(Blanco) Party; and the Colorado Party.  The Blancos and 
Colorados are Uruguay's two traditional parties.  Both were 
founded in the early 19th century, and are among the oldest 
political parties in the world.  Throughout most of Uruguay's 
history, those two parties garnered about 90 percent of the 
vote, with the Colorados usually in power and Blancos as the 
traditional opposition.  That dominance was challenged with 
the founding of the FA coalition in 1971.  The status quo was 
further unsettled after a severe economic crisis early in 
this century, which occurred under a Colorado president and 
resulted in that party being relegated to Uruguay's political 
wilderness.  There is also an Independent Party that polls at 
only 1-2 percent, but which is a possible factor in the 2009 
¶4. (U) While all three major political organizations espouse 
a strong state role, each occupies its own political niche. 
Over twenty parties ranging from moderate socialists to 
extreme left-wing radical groups comprise the FA coalition. 
During the military dictatorship of 1973-85, the FA was 
banned from political activity, and many early party members 
were either killed, imprisoned or forced to live in exile. 
The Blancos are generally thought of as Uruguay's 
conservatives, with a center-right orientation and strong 
rural representation.  Colorados traditionally supported a 
strong social safety net and state ownership of major 
industries, although the last three Colorado administrations 
opened the economy to foreign investment and privatized some 
state-controlled enterprises. 
¶5. (U) National Elections are held every five years on the 
last Sunday in October, so the next elections will take place 
October 25, 2009.  At that time, the president and vice 
president, plus all members of both houses of Uruguay's 
bicameral General Assembly (a total of thirty senators and 99 
deputies) are elected.  In the interim, there will be an 
election in June 2009 -- roughly equivalent to a one-day 
distillation of the U.S. primary process -- that will 
determine the selection of presidential candidates from the 
Blanco and Colorado parties.  The FA has traditionally been 
able to come to consensus on its presidential candidate via 
internal deliberations and without utilizing the primary 
election process, although it is unclear whether that will be 
the case during this election cycle.  Several coalition 
gatherings in December 2008, including the FA's National 
Congress December 13-14, might clarify the composition of the 
FA ticket for 2009. 
¶6. (U) To win the presidency, a candidate must obtain a 
simple majority of the votes cast.  If no candidate does so 
in the October elections, the top two vote-getters go 
head-to-head in another election a month later, on the last 
Sunday in November.  Voting is obligatory for Uruguayans over 
age eighteen.  During Uruguay's last presidential elections 
in 2004, the FA won in the first round with 50.7 percent of 
the vote, followed by the Blancos with 34.1 percent and the 
Colorados with 10.3 percent.  However, polling indicates that 
there will likely be a second round between the FA and Blanco 
candidates in November 2009. 
Who's Who - Candidates 
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¶7. (SBU) Principal candidates for the upcoming elections have 
emerged, and most are already fully engaged in their 
Frente Amplio Coalition 
The fight for the FA's presidential nomination has focused on 
two candidates, Danilo Astori and Jose Mujica.  Minister of 
Industry, Energy, and Mining Daniel Martinez is emerging as a 
dark horse. 
      - Danilo Astori:  He did an admirable job as Economy 
and Finance Minister in the first years of the Vazquez 
government, but is now identified with sweeping tax reform 
that includes the imposition of an income tax highly 
unpopular with the middle class.  Astori has been a leading 
proponent of deepening economic ties with the U.S.  President 
Vazquez has supported Astori's candidacy. 
      - Jose Mujica:  Senator Jose Mujica is a former 
Tupamaro guerrilla and the leader of the leftist Movimiento 
de Participacion Popular (MPP).  His populist message has 
made him a favorite within the Frente Amplio. However, 
Mujica's history makes some analysts question his 
electability in general elections. 
      - Daniel Martinez:  Minister Martinez has a decent 
record in his ministry and as a manager elsewhere (he headed 
Uruguay's state-owned energy company ANCAP), and he has solid 
leftist credentials.  He does not carry the political baggage 
of the two frontrunners, and so could possibly be chosen as a 
compromise candidate. 
Several others have been mentioned as presidential or vice 
presidential hopefuls, including Marcos Carambula, Intendente 
(administrator) of Uruguay's second-most populous department; 
and Enrique Rubio, director of Uruguay's planning and budget 
National (Blanco) Party 
      - Jorge Larranaga:  Senator Jorge Larranaga is the 
former administrator of one of Uruguay's larger provinces, 
Paysandu.  He represents the center/left movement within the 
party, which emphasizes a strong state.  He recently stepped 
down from his post as head of the party. 
      -Luis Alberto Lacalle Herrera:  Senator Lacalle is a 
lawyer, rancher, former President of the Republic (1990-95), 
former Congressman (1972-73), and Senator (1984-89).  His 
faction is considered to the right of Larranaga's on the 
political spectrum, but he himself employs a centrist message. 
Colorado Party 
      - Pedro Bordaberry:  Bordaberry, son of former 
President of the Republic Juan Maria Bordaberry (1972-77), is 
the current Colorado Party frontrunner.  He is regarded as 
dynamic and hard working. During this election cycle, 
however, he has little chance of overcoming the association 
with his father, whose presidency led to the military 
dictatorship of 1973-85.  Still, Colorados hope his dynamism 
may serve to increase the size of the vote (and consequent 
Parliamentary representation) of his party. 
Vazquez Re-election Movement 
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¶8. (U) President Vazquez remains the most popular politician 
in Uruguay, so the possibility that he will seek reelection 
has therefore been the subject of much interest and 
speculation.  Vazquez has stated publicly with consistency 
that he is not considering re-election, although there have 
been occasions -- both public and private -- in which he has 
been more ambiguous about any re-election plans.  At first 
glance, the idea seems moot, as Uruguay's constitution limits 
presidents to a single consecutive term, although there is no 
limit on multiple, non-consecutive terms. 
¶9. (U) Some Vazquez supporters, undaunted by the 
constitutional prohibition of consecutive presidential terms, 
are exploring ways to keep Vazquez as president.  There are 
basically three paths to amend Uruguay's constitution; all 
would require a national plebiscite to approve a proposed 
change.  The first option is via a Popular Initiative, which 
in Uruguay requires petitions containing signatures of ten 
percent of citizens entitled to vote.  Collection of 
signatures is ongoing.  The second option would be for an 
absolute majority of Uruguay's bicameral General Assembly to 
call for a national constitutional convention.  This would be 
a long and controversial process with uncertain effects on 
Uruguay's constitution, and is therefore not considered a 
likely option.  Finally, Uruguay's General Assembly could 
vote for the constitutional change via approval by two-thirds 
of each house of the legislature (21 senators and 66 deputies 
would have to vote in favor), also considered unlikely.  That 
a Vazquez reelection is a long shot did not stop four members 
of Vazquez's cabinet, including putative FA candidate Daniel 
Martinez, from publicly endorsing the idea.  Representatives 
of the reelection movement have said that they will proceed 
until Vazquez directs them to stop, which has yet to happen. 
Comment: A Strong Base for the Bilateral Relationship 
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¶10. (SBU) While we hope that whomever emerges as Uruguay's 
next president will want to work productively with the U.S., 
it is too early to tell whether some of the current 
candidates would make a constructive bilateral relationship a 
priority.  What we do know is that the next president will 
inherit a stronger and institutionally deeper partnership 
than did Vazquez when he entered office.  The steps forward 
we have taken in areas such as trade, education, science and 
technology, and counter-narcotics cooperation have resulted 
in over 55 percent of Uruguayans having a positive image of 
the U.S., up from 36 percent in 2003.  That circumstance 
alone should go far in maintaining the generally positive 
course of the bilateral relationship.