For years, Daniela Leal saw only one good choice at the ballot box: She voted for the Frente Amplio, the Broad Front, the coalition of Uruguayan leftist parties that prioritized the well-being of families like hers. Ms. Leal, 43, her four children and one grandchild live in a cement-block house with a corrugated tin roof in a slum on the edge of the capital. Sewage runs out front in the cracks in the pavement she tries to sweep clean. The Broad Front governments of the past decade boosted minimum wages and pensions, and focused on better housing and health care – they cared about people like her, she said. But with a national election in Uruguay just around the corner, Ms. Leal is suddenly undecided. The Frente is the party of the poor, but she worries they have become just like all the other politicians. And she wonders if it’s time to try something new. The indecision of voters such as Ms. Leal has made the Oct. 26 election uncharacteristically difficult to predict. Polls suggest the Broad Front may hold on to parliament but will not win another majority. And the race for president is too close to call.
Uruguay’s current President, Jose Mujica, is widely admired in the country. A 79-year-old former guerrilla, he spurned the presidential mansion to stay in a tumbledown farmhouse, and donates most of his salary to a public housing scheme. But he is barred by a single-term limit from running again.
The Frente Amplio candidate is Tabare Vazquez, a 74-year-old who was president before Mr. Mujica. His main challenger is Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, the candidate for the Partido Nacional, or National Party. He is in many ways Mr. Mujica’s opposite: He is a lawyer who lives in a posh gated community, went to private school, is bilingual and wears sharp suits. (Mr. Mujica favours battered sandals and stained sweaters.) And at 41, with sandy hair flipping over his collar, Mr. Lacalle Pou looks and sounds like what he is – a full generation younger than Mr. Vazquez.