|At stake in the 31 October 2004 elections were the Presidency as well as all seats in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.
Pre-election polls predicted a first-round triumph for Mr Tabaré Vázquez, the presidential candidate of the Broad Front coalition (Encuentro Progresista/Frente Amplio/Nueva Mayoría), which was created in 1971 and comprised the traditional reformist left (including the Communist Party), the former Tupamaros urban guerrillas and other left-wing groups together with some politicians who had abandoned the two traditional parties, the National and Colorado parties.
In the case Mr Vázquez failed to take the 50 percent plus one vote needed to win the elections outright, his rival in the 28 November run-off was expected to be Mr Jorge Larrañaga, the candidate of the centre-right National Party, whose poll ratings ranged between 30 and 35 per cent. All opinion polls predicted the poorest showing ever by the Colorado Party, whose candidate, Mr Guillermo Stirling, former Interior Minister in the outgoing Batlle administration, had just eight to eleven per cent poll ratings.
The Colorado Party, which had ruled the country for most of its existence as an independent republic since 1830, also governed during three of the four presidential terms since the end of the 1973-1985 military dictatorship, twice under former president Julio María Sanguinetti and once under Mr Batlle. According to analysts, at the 2004 elections, the two traditional parties were paying the cost of the alliance formed in the 1990s to push through their neo-liberal economic policies that led to the financial and economic collapse of 2002. The neo-liberal economic doctrine of market-oriented policy measures, liberalisation, deregulation, privatisation and structural adjustments known as the "Washington Consensus" began to be applied throughout Latin America in the 1990s on the prescription of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the U.S. government.
During the campaign, Mr Vázquez Vázquez had announced he would strengthen Uruguay's commitment and ties to Mercosur (Southern Common Market). He called for a larger and reorganised Mercosur that would be better able to both coordinate South-South cooperation and conduct negotiations for a Free Trade Area of the Americas, relations with the European Union, India, China, and various integration processes, as well as its participation in multi-lateral forums like the World Trade Organisation. That would stand in sharp contrast to the focus of conservative outgoing President Jorge Batlle, who had put a priority on relations with the United States and strengthened his friendship with the family of President George W Bush, while pushing relations with neighbouring countries to the backburner or even undermining normally strong ties with Argentina and Brazil, which had been hurt by a number of diplomatic rows. During his mandate, Mr. Batlle represented one of the Bush administration's most loyal supporters in Latin America, supporting the war on Iraq, despite polls showing 90 per cent of the population opposed it, and sending peacekeeping troops to Haiti as well as backing the US bid to isolate Cuba.
Mr Vázquez, who had run for president twice and lost, had accumulated popularity by calling for greater transparency and efficiency in government, respect for human rights and more comprehensive social programmes to alleviate the recent increase in poverty. Like his opponents, he had promised to respect the terms of the debt restructuring and respecting the country's programme with the International Monetary Fund. In this campaign, the left put a strong emphasis on calming the financial markets and business sector, announcing far ahead of the elections the name of the future economy minister: Senator Danilo Astori, a prestigious Broad Front economist who has a reputation as a moderate.
The results showed that the Frente Amplio coalition would rule the country for the first time. Mr. Tabaré Vázquez won almost 52 per cent of the popular vote for President, thereby avoiding a runoff. The Colorado Party won a historically low vote total of 10 per cent, the worst election results ever for this party.
The Frente Amplio coalition will control 17 of the 30 Senate seats and 53 of the 99 seats in the House of Representatives. Though the National Blanco Party presidential candidate did not make it to the runoff, the party nevertheless polled more than in the previous elections winning more Senate and House of Representatives seats, 10 senators and 34 representatives. The Colorado Party obtained three seats in the Senate and only 10 in the House of Representatives, down from 33.