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New president, new era as Uruguay shifts to center

Agence France-Presse

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Luis Lacalle Pou will be sworn in as Uruguay president on Sunday to herald a new era in the South American country following 15 years of left-wing rule that brought important social reforms but left a stagnated economy and soaring crime.

The 46-year-old leader of the center-right Partido Nacional was elected in November after winning a run-off against the incumbent Broad Front’s candidate Daniel Martinez by just 37,000 votes in the country of 3.4 million people.

But in order to defeat the Broad Front, Lacalle Pou had to rely on a “multi-colored coalition” of five political parties from the center to the far right.

For many, it’s a fragile partnership fraught with potential conflicts, not least due to the presence of the radical Cabildo Abierto led by former army commander Guido Manini Rios, who only took up politics last year but still garnered 11 percent in the first round of October’s presidential vote.

This party is the most “unpredictable” in the ruling coalition that includes the Partido Nacional’s traditional political rivals, the liberal Partido Colorado, says political scientist Daniel Chasquetti from the Republic University.

“The entire political system will have to take stock because we had 15 years with a party that had a large majority” in parliament, said Chasquetti.

The Partido Nacional has not been in power since the new president’s father, Luis Alberto Lacalle (1990-1995) governed.

He also succeeds a period of stability, in stark contrast to the rest of the region where social unrest, economic meltdown or drastic political lurches have been the recent order of the day.

Under the Broad Front, Uruguay saw the legalization of marihuana, same-sex marriage and abortion, as well as a campaign against smoking.

Salaries and pensions rose, access to health care broadened, poverty fell and there were periods of record growth, increasing the spending power of the most disadvantaged sectors of society.

But over the last five years, the economy stagnated, the fiscal deficit rose to its highest rate in 30 years and unemployment crept up.

Most importantly, though, was soaring insecurity. Murders increased by 46 percent from 2014-19 and while President Tabare Vazquez promised to decrease thefts by 30 percent, they actually increased by 40 percent.

And that, according to Chasquetti, is the main reason for the Broad Front’s election defeat.

As well as tackling crime and re-energizing the economy, Lacalle Pou has announced he will take immediate action to reduce public spending, facilitate immigration and implement radical changes in Uruguay’s foreign policy.

That last point is evident in the list of invitees with right-wing presidents Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Colombia’s Ivan Duque, Sebastian Pinera of Chile and Paraguay’s Mario Abdo Benitez joining King Felipe VI of Spain at the inauguration ceremony.

The left-wing leaders of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, whose President Nicolas Maduro was branded a “dictator” by Lacalle Pou, have not been invited.

Argentina’s center-left President Alberto Fernandez declined his invitation due to a prior engagement.

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