Uruguay - Political parties

Uruguay has Latin America's oldest two-party system. The Colorados (reds) and Blancos (whites), formed during the conflicts of the 1830s and 1840s, persisted into the 1990s. The Colorados are traditional Latin American liberals, representing urban business interests, and favoring limitation on the power of the Catholic Church. The Blancos (officially called the National Party) are conservatives, defenders of large landowners and the Church.

For more than 90 years, until the 1958 elections, the executive power was controlled by the Colorados. Under such leaders as Batlle, the party promulgated a progressive program advocating public education, advanced labor laws, government ownership of public utilities, and separation of church and state. After eight years of Blanco government, the Colorado party regained power in the 1966 election.

The results of the November 1971 balloting were so close that the final tabulation took more than two months to ascertain; the Colorados won 36.3% of the vote; the Blancos, 35.7%; and the Broad Front (Frente Amplio, a left-wing coalition that included the Tupamaros), 16.6%. These three groups, plus the Christian Democratic Party (Partido Democrático Cristiano—PDC), formed in 1962 from the former Catholic Civic Union, made up the Uruguayan party system at the time of the military takeover.

Political activities were suspended following the constitutional crisis of June 1973, and in December 1973 the Communist and Socialist parties were outlawed. In June 1980, the military began to liberalize, as they permitted political meetings of nonleftist groups. In November 1982, they allowed for intraparty elections in each of three parties: the Colorados, the National Party (Blancos), and the small Civic Union (an outgrowth of the Christian Democrats). In the voting, party candidates who had campaigned against the military's proposed constitution in 1980 took more than 60% of the vote.

Neither Blanco leader Wilson Ferreira Aldunate nor Broad Front leader Líber Seregni Mosquera was allowed to participate in the elections, but both retained their party posts. In the November 1984 elections, Colorado candidate Julio María Sanguinetti Cairolo won the presidency with 38.6% of the vote. The Colorados also won pluralities in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Aldunate and Seregni frequently consulted with President Sanguinetti, and previously outlawed parties were legalized. In 1985, the PDC and FIDEL belonged to the Broad Front, and the National Liberation Movement (Movimiento de Liberación Nacional—MLN), also known as the Tupamaros, reconstituted years after their destruction in 1973, announced their intention to give up violence and join the Broad Front as a legal party.

In 1989, Blanco candidate Lacalle took 37% of the vote. Jorge Batlle, of the Colorado party, unable to capitalize on name recognition, received 29%, while Liber Seregni Mosquera of the Broad Front received 20%. The Blancos also carried a plurality in each house of the legislature, followed respectively by the Colorados, the Broad Front, and the "New Space (or Sector)" Coalition, which consists of the PDC and the Civic Union.

As more people grow disenchanted with market reforms in Latin America, leftist coalitions have become more palatable to voters. In Argentina and Chile, the center-left was in power in 2000. In Uruguay, the Broad Coalition candidate Tabaré Vazquez made an impressive show at the polls, finishing first with 39% of the vote in the October 1999 presidential election. His success forced historic foes Blancos and Colorados to back Jorge Batlle in the November runoff election. While Batlle persevered, the leftist coalition managed to increase its total vote behind Vazquez (45.9%). The Batlle presidency has been characterized by a further weakening of the traditional parties. Faced by the opposition of the Broad Front, Battle has been forced to rely on the 22 deputies and 7 senators from the National Party that, together with the 33 deputies and 10 senators from the Colorado party, comprise a majority in the 99-seat Chamber of Deputies and 31-seat Senate.

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