Uruguayans go to the polls this Sunday (27) for a yes or no referendum to a package of laws presented at the beginning of Luis Lacalle Pou’s term. The result, however, will represent a political thermometer for the country, which has seen the center-right return to power in 2020 after years of left-wing governments.
Formally, the query —unusual— refers to 135 articles of the so-called Urgent Consideration Law (LUC). The project, out of 476 proposals in all, was one of the president’s main campaign banners and, after taking office, with a favorable Congress, it was easily approved.
Led by the Frente Ampla (left), however, activists and politicians began collecting signatures to try to call a plebiscite that would overturn part of the laws, seen as hardliners. In July last year, with 671,544 supporters reached, the election was made official.
“The LUC is one of those ‘bus laws’, as we call it here, that address so many issues that voters are confused,” says Victoria Gadea, a political scientist at the Universidad de la República. “Which leads the referendum to be, in fact, a way of measuring the approval of Lacalle Pou and already launching perspectives for the 2024 elections. It will serve as a thermometer of his performance in this midterm.”
The articles most criticized by the opposition are those related to public security. Among them, the doubling of sentences for crimes committed by adolescents or those convicted of drug trafficking and the imposition of obstacles to the release of detainees before the end of the established sentence.
Others deal with political activity, such as one that, in the view of unions, limits the right to demonstrate and association. And even articles that allow mobile phone portability are in question — that is, the maintenance of the number with the change of operator that provides the service.
The LUC would also create the Secretariat of Strategic Intelligence, to assist the work of the Ministries of Defense and the Interior, having access to confidential information without mandatory judicial decision “if necessary for the security of the country”.
At the ballot box this Sunday, voters will vote “yes” if they want the 135 articles that led to the call for the referendum to be repealed; or “no” if you prefer to maintain the approval given by Parliament to the text.
Lacalle Pou has asked for the vote no. “People knew these were our proposals, because they were our campaign banner. Taking down these articles would be a step backwards,” she said last week in an interview with a local media outlet.
Former president José Mujica, retired from politics but still something of a moral leader of the opposition, in turn, classified the LUC as an earthquake that threatens the institutional stability of the country.
The polls carried out so far indicate that the result will be tight. According to the most recent poll by the Factum institute, 42% said they would vote “yes” and 48% “no” — there are still 8% undecided and 2% who say they prefer to overturn the vote.
Sociologist Rafael Porzecanski reinforces that the referendum polls will be a test for the chance of continuity of the so-called “multicolor coalition” in government. In the last elections, Lacalle Pou, from the National Party, allied with four other parties, including traditional rival Colorado and the far-right Cabildo Abierto – to which security agendas are very expensive –, to win the Frente Amplio.
A government defeat, therefore, could fracture the coalition. “A big no win, by 7 or 8 points, for example, would leave Lacalle Pou in a comfortable position to continue his management”, says Porzecanski.
The president closed the first year of government with a high popularity of 62%, mainly because of the management of the pandemic. Without harsh quarantines, with case tracking and large-scale testing in the most contaminated regions, he was able to keep much of the economy open. Uruguay was the country where face-to-face classes first resumed.
The vaccination campaign already counts 81% of the population with the first immunization cycle (two doses) and 62% with the booster.
Today, however, its approval rating is 51% (according to Factum). The drop is attributed to the country’s economic difficulties with the closure of borders to tourism, precisely because of the pandemic – they were recently reopened. Still, the figure is considered high compared to other South American presidents.