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Rivals headed to runoff vote in Uruguay

Jose Mujica captured about 48 percent of the vote but will have to face Luis Alberto Lacalle in a runoff election. Jose Mujica captured about 48 percent of the vote but will have to face Luis Alberto Lacalle in a runoff election. (Jose Monestier/ AFP/ Getty Images)
Associated Press / October 26, 2009

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MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay - Jose Mujica, the candidate of the ruling socialist party, gained about 48 percent of the votes cast in yesterday’s presidential election but not enough to avoid a runoff against the former president, Luis Alberto Lacalle, exit polls indicated.

Mujica had to get 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. The runoff will be held Nov. 29.

Uruguay faced a stark choice in the election between Mujica, 74, a former guerrilla who yearns to create enduring socialism, and Lacalle, 69, who wants to downsize government and distance his nation from Latin American leftists.

Uruguayans also considered a voter initiative to remove amnesty for human rights abuses under the 1973-85 dictatorship.

Lacalle pushed to privatize government as president from 1990 through 1995. This time around, he wants to remove the income tax imposed by the outgoing president, Tabare Vazquez, and said he would “go in with a chain saw’’ to reduce the bureaucracy in the South American country of 3.4 million residents.

Running third was Pedro Bordaberry, 49, of the Colorados, son of the president who ushered in Uruguay’s 12-year dictatorship in 1973.

The military amnesty law was passed in 1986 as a balancing move a year after Mujica and other Tupamaru guerrillas were granted amnesty for their crimes. Lacalle described the amnesty as key to a peaceful transition to democracy after the 12-year dictatorship and says it should stand. Others say the country must confront its past, even if it means opening old wounds.