Uruguay opposition claims victory in presidential vote, official candidate concedes

FILE PHOTO: National Party presidential candidate Luis Lacalle Pou speaks to his supporters after the second-round presidential election in Montevideo, Uruguay November 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mariana Greif

MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Uruguay’s conservative opposition party claimed victory and the governing party’s candidate conceded defeat on Thursday after the count of Sunday’s runoff election concluded, marking a rightward shift on a continent torn by social unrest.

First, there was a tweet from the opposition National Party saying its candidate Luis Lacalle Pou had won. “Uruguay now has a new president,” it said.

Minutes later, also by way of Twitter, Daniel Martinez of the ruling Broad Front party conceded defeat.

“We congratulate president elect Luis Lacalle Pou, with whom I will meet tomorrow,” Martinez tweeted.

In a region undergoing political upheaval, Uruguay’s swing to the right marks a shift in the farm-driven South American nation, known for its cattle ranches and liberal policies on legalized marijuana and abortion rights.

Broad Front, the ruling party for 15 years, has overseen a period of stability and growth. But it came under pressure recently from a slowing economy caused in part by global trade woes and bad crop weather that dented agriculture.

A slow count of the vote had been leaning by about 1 percentage point in favor of the conservative candidate since Sunday. “The tendency did not change as the vote count was scrutinized further,” Martinez tweeted.

With economic growth slowing, job security fraying and holes in social safety nets widening, a wave of protests have spanned vast parts of South America including Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia and Chile.

While neighboring, inflation-hit nation Argentina does a political left-turn back to Peronism, Uruguay has generally been stable despite a lackluster economy that has put upward pressure on unemployment.

Reporting by Fabian werner; Writing by Hugh Bronstein and Eliana Raszewski; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Daniel Wallis and Tom Brown