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The year that Uruguay won international acclaim

The country became the first nation in the world to regulate the marijuana market It also took other landmark decisions such as the approval of same-sex marriage

Uruguayan President José Mujica, at a recent official event.
Uruguayan President José Mujica, at a recent official event.AP

Uruguay is entering a new year, one that will be defined by presidential elections in the fall. In October, the incumbent left-wing coalition Frente Amplio (Broad Front) will seek a third mandate, while the opposition is clamoring for change on the strength of citizen concerns over education and security.

The year 2013 ended with international praise for a country that became the first nation in the world to regulate the marijuana market, as well as taking other landmark decisions such as the approval of same-sex marriage and the ratification of a law decriminalizing abortion.

The marijuana law, and the personality of President José Mujica, 78, a former Tupamaro guerrilla fighter, drew attention from the international media last year. As a result, this small nation of 3.3 million people became The Economist's Country of the Year.

Security has been the people's chief preoccupation for several years now

But 2013 also ended with setbacks for the government, such as the resignation of Economy Minister Fernando Lorenzo for alleged abuse of power in the liquidation of the airline carrier Pluna, which filed for bankruptcy in July 2012.

Also, in November of last year education authorities published a report on high school repetition rates between 2004 and 2012, and found that the national average is 32.3 percent, rising to 40.8 percent in the capital, Montevideo. This revelation is a cause of great concern to Uruguayans.

And while international groups such as the Organization of American States define Uruguay as one of the safest countries on the continent, security has been the people's chief preoccupation for several years now. Official Interior Ministry figures show a 4.6-percent drop in homicides in the first half of the year, yet burglaries rose 8.2 percent to 8,664. According to a survey by the consulting firm Factum, eight out of 10 Uruguayans have a negative view of the current state of public security, and the issue is set to be one of the main battle fronts on the campaign trail.

The most recent political survey available, conducted this week by Equipos Mori, shows 44-percent support in voting intention for the Frente Amplio; 25 percent for the right-wing Partido Nacional (National Party); 14 percent for the liberal Partido Colorado (Red Party); and two percent for the Partido Independiente. A further four percent of respondents opted for minority parties or blank votes, with 11 percent undecided.

The outlook is thus similar to the 2009 elections, in which the Frente Amplio failed to secure more than 50 percent of the votes and needed a second round to cement its victory.

Parties will decide in June 1 primaries who is to represent them in the October elections. The Frente Amplio's main candidate is former president Tabaré Vázquez (2005-2010), the first left-wing politician to win a presidential election and break the two-party system enshrined by the Partido Colorado and the Partido Nacional, who took turns in power for over a century.

The Partido Nacional faces a tight race to the June primaries, which could go to the favorite, Senator Jorge Larrañaga, or to deputy Luis Lacalle Pou, son of former president Luis Alberto Lacalle (1990-1995). Meanwhile, the internal race within the Partido Colorado is being led by Senator Pedro Bordaberry, son of former dictator Juan María Bordaberry, who enjoys much more support than rival José Amorím Batlle. The Independent Party has only one candidate, Pablo Mieres.