Short victory for the President of Uruguay after referendum

With a short majority, Uruguay decided to keep 135 disputed laws enacted under Luis Lacalle Pou’s administration in a referendum that ended up being an approval test for the government.

Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou after the results of Law of Urgent Consideration referendum
Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou (left) speaking after the results of Law of Urgent Consideration referendum | Presidencia Uruguay

Uruguay voted on March 27 in a referendum to decide whether a package of regulations should be repealed. The population decided to maintain them.

The binding results maintain 135 laws that were part of 476 articles from the Urgent Consideration Law (LUC). Introduced in March 2020 after the recent election of Lacalle Pou, the LUC was passed in Congress in July 2020 and was the first law promulgated by the newly-formed coalition government. Presented as the liberal government‘s pillar law, it reformed education, labor, public administration, finance and law enforcement sectors.

But 28% of the legislation could have been repealed if the yes had won.

Disputed articles included harsher legislation related to drug trafficking cases, crimes of adolescents or resistance of police forces. Articles reduce the use of cash payments. Rents with no guarantee are facilitated along with the eviction process of tenants. Demonstrations in the form of pickets or camps that “occupy public spaces or prevent free movement” are forbidden. Uruguay has also introduced more control of fuel prices and prepared liberalization of state-owned companies in telecom and energy sectors like the oil company Ancap.

The possibility to keep one’s phone number after switching telecom operators was also one of the LUC articles questioned in the referendum.

Approximately 85% of the 2.6 million people eligible to vote participated in the referendum. People who don’t vote or don’t have a valid reason for not voting are exposed to a fine of 1,428 Uruguayan pesos (US$33) in the country.

Given the number of law articles contested, the referendum was considered as a public support test of the current administration. The outcome of the consultation based on opinion polls was uncertain as they showed a large proportion of undecided voters.

The no, supported by Uruguay President Luis Lacalle Pou, won with 51.1% of the ballots. Blank votes were considered as a vote to keep things as they currently are, id est supporting the status quo and the no. The ballots included 1.31% of blank votes, proving the tight win of the government.

PIT-CNT, a national trade union center, and the left-wing opposition party Frente Amplio, which led the country from 2005 to 2020, had gathered over 672,000 signatures, or 25% of the electorate, calling for a referendum. They recognized the results.

Looking at the big picture is what makes Uruguay institutionally strong”, the president said after having cast his vote on Sunday. “There may be two different political visions, but there are not two Uruguays,” the president, criticized by the opposition for having campaigned for the no, then reacted to the results.

Despite a tight win in the middle of his 5-year mandate, the head of State appears reinforced by the outcome of the public consultation as he vowed to continue on more sets of reforms. “We continue with the same energy, with a coalition that has offered firmness in diversity,” he said during the press conference.

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