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"By a head": the unusual presidential election in Uruguay

Not even Uruguay, the progressive territory of South America, was safe from a social stupor

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“No more racing, no more gambling. A close end that I will never see again. But if any foal is guaranteed on Sunday, I throw myself whole, what am I going to do? ”. In 1935 Alfredo de La Pêra (born in São Paulo, Argentine naturalized) and Carlos Gardel (born it is not known where versions vary from Uruguay to France) composed one of the most important tangos in the world. So much so that it was at the sound of Una Cabeza, a parallel between love and horse racing, where luck plays a big role, that Al Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar starred in one of the most emblematic scenes of modern cinema in the movie Scent of a Woman.

In the run-up to the second round of the Uruguayan elections, November 24th, a Sunday, it was said in Argentina that a pilgrimage would take more than 40,000 Uruguayans back to the country to help in the tight dispute between the candidates Daniel Martínez, center-left (Frente Ampla), and Luis Lacalle Pou, cent-right (Partido Nacional).

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In Uruguay, different from other countries, the vote cannot be made abroad, at a consular representation, only in person. It was therefore expected that in a patriotic stupor, some of the 300,000 to 600,000 (from a total of approximately 3.5 million) Uruguayans living abroad would meet Martínez’s request.

Pepe just wanted to die of age

Peaceful Uruguay, whose population remains the same for decades and aging, had been ruled for 15 years by a left-wing coalition, whose greatest symbol was the charismatic former president Jose “Pepe” Mujica, who had retired in the previous year. Known for his progressive and informal speeches, and for leading a liberal country, Mujica has become something of a left-wing popstar. Although, he never acknowledges, he was regarded as the utopian leader of those who do not believe in the most conservative line of politics.

Given the circumstances, he had to back down, giving up his retirement at the age of 84 which and his will of just dying of age. However, Pepe failed to realize his morbid plans and eventually ran as a senator (and win) to aid his collision in the tightest election in modern Uruguayan history.

An “atypical” election

On November 24th, when the election ended in the country, the preliminaries results began to point a tiny distance between the two candidates and even something, mathematically, unusual: a technical draw between them.

At about 8:30 pm Uruguayan journalists no longer knew what to say on television. At 9, 10, 11 pm, the situation was really strange. Meanwhile, in their speeches, Lacalle spoke of “victory” and Martínez spoked something like “we haven’t lost yet”. At the end of the day it was up to the Electoral Court to declare that there would be no decision that day.

Fear of fire

The continent came from a wave of uprisings that had shown the world that Latin America is anything but dormant, and that not even Uruguay, with its republican and dove tradition, could be free of a social outbreak.

The fire could indeed spread

Chile had overthrown the myth of economic prosperity without social inclusion and, unlike any projection, had become one of the most violent countries in the region. The elections in Bolivia had demonstrated the importance of a long and rigorous tabulation and, many would argue, the alternation of power. The continent seemed to be balancing on the pendulum tip under a tightrope.

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Despite a peaceful and democratic first round, as many reported from Uruguay, international analysts were beginning to point to the grieta (crevice) created by the division in the paisito, as it is affectionately called by the Uruguayans.

Neither Uruguay, South America’s progressive territory, was safe, experts said, from a social stupor. This is because, until then, Uruguay maintained, according to the prestigious publication The Economist, the best democratic index in the region. Perhaps, therefore, the dispute went to penalties. Days before the election, Mujica’s own companion, Lucía Topolansky (vice president until March 2020), who is not given to alarmism, even confessed to an Argentine newspaper that she hoped that “the South American fire would not be carried over to Uruguay”.

“At the moment, Argentina and Uruguay are the two most stable countries in South America. I hope this is happening, although we still do not have a sufficient historical perspective to know its causes in depth; this widespread continental fire does not spread to the south of the south. Bolivia, Chile Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador are collapsing. Peru is without parliament, ”she mourned.

Pure math

By a head many horses win or lose races and millions are won or lost in bets. “How many mistakes for a head,” says the tango that refers to equestrian slang where often a horse’s head is the parameter used to determine the winner of a race.

And it was this head that ultimately decided the presidential election in Uruguay: a mathematical measurement, since the Uruguayan Electoral Court has not yet ruled on Lacalle’s victory, but has already been recognized by his opponent and state leaders throughout the world.

Over them was the scrutiny of just over 3,000 votes. As illustration, a councilman in the Brazilian city Sao Paulo had to reach a minimum of about 12,000 votes be elected in the last elections.

These three thousand votes “the horse’s head” that separates Martinez from the presidency

Despite stating that the results were “irreversible”, the final numbers will be announced only over the weekend. A caution that, despite being the Republican Uruguay, draws attention, especially if we take into account what happened in Bolivia. We cannot place all countries in the region on the same whaling, but neither can we disqualify the concomitant mass uprisings in several countries in the area.

We are among progressive and conservative governments, some elected “by a head”, others in overwhelming victories. This is how, today, gallops America.

Translated by Fabiane Ziolla Menezes