MONTEVIDEO - Uruguay's ex-president Tabare Vazquez won a new term in a runoff election Sunday, extending the left's decade in power, though not necessarily his predecessor Jose Mujica's groundbreaking marijuana law.
Vazquez, a 74-year-old cancer doctor who previously served as president from 2005 to 2010, had won 55.5 per cent of the vote with almost 72 per cent of the ballots counted.
His centre-right opponent, 41-year-old lawmaker Luis Lacalle Pou, conceded defeat after three exit polls showed him losing by a margin of more than 10 percentage points.
Lacalle Pou, a former president's son and a passionate surfer, had 44.5 per cent of the vote in the official count, according to results released by the national electoral court.
In a victory speech before cheering supporters undaunted by a rain-soaked election day, Vazquez called for a new approach to face the country's "new challenges." "It won't be just more of the same, because Uruguay today isn't the same as in 2005 or 2010," he told the crowd.
He vowed "more freedoms and more rights," as well as "more economic, social and cultural development." The win consolidates the leftist Broad Front (FA) coalition's hold on power and returns Vazquez, who swept them to office 10 years ago, to the helm in a game of political leapfrog for this country that bars presidents from serving consecutive terms.
The FA retained its legislative majority in the first-round vote on October 26, including a senate seat for Mujica.
The small South American country will now watch to see how Vazquez, a straight-laced politician with a formal style, handles the take-over from Mujica, a former guerrilla fighter famous for living in a run-down farmhouse and donating most of his salary to charity.