MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) – Ruling party candidate and former president Tabaré Vázquez is favored to win Uruguay's runoff election Sunday on the back of a strong economy, a result that would help secure the country's pioneering marijuana laws.
Five polls show the left-leaning Vázquez, 74, ahead of center-right challenger Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou by a roughly 10 percentage point margin.
Vázquez, who took office in 2005, was the first person to break 170 years of domination by Uruguay's Colorado and National parties.
He pursued moderate economic policies that helped Uruguay outpace neighbors while improving life for the poor. He left office in 2010 with high popularity ratings that put his party's candidate, José Mujica, in the president's office.
Now Mujica appears set to return the favor, with his 70 percent approval rating boosting Vázquez's candidacy. Both men belong to the Broad Front coalition.
"Uruguay is not governed by people, it's governed by parties. In other countries the president has a more important role," said Adolfo Garce, a political scientist at Montevideo's University of the Republic. "This will be the third government of the Broad Front and it will have even more continuity than differences from the previous ones."
Lacalle Pou, 41, has criticized a plan promoted by Mujica to create the world's first national marketplace for legal marijuana in Uruguay. Although he would still allow consumers to grow pot plants at home for personal use, Lacalle Pou has said he would end the government's role in the production and sale of marijuana.
Vázquez has said he would change the marijuana law only if it proves ineffective. He has also promised to continue the coalition's mix of pro-market economic policies and social welfare plans.
A still-practicing oncologist, Vázquez expanded health care and campaigned against the use of tobacco during his presidency. He also vetoed a law to liberalize restrictions on abortion — a measure that later passed under Mujica.
Vázquez continued seeing patients one day a week during his previous presidency, but said in a recent interview that he would give up medicine to focus on the presidency if elected on Sunday.
In the first round of presidential voting on Oct. 28, he won 48 percent of the vote against 31 percent for Lacalle Pou of the National Party.
Lacalle Pou has campaigned on promises to curb rising crime and improve education. He also vowed to curb rising prices, and opposes Mujica's plan to resettle six Guantanamo prisoners in Uruguay.
Mujica, who is barred by law from running for another consecutive term, led Uruguay through stable economic growth and better wages. A former leftist guerrilla, his social agenda won praise worldwide for including the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage, although the measures remain less popular at home.
Critics also say that his government failed to bring improvements in education, security and environmental issues.