October 27, 2019 / 3:31 PM / 22 days ago

Uruguay heads to the polls with tight race expected

People stand in line to cast their votes at a polling station, in Montevideo, Uruguay October 27, 2019. REUTERS/Mariana Greif

MONTEVIDEO (Reuters) - Uruguayans headed out to vote Sunday in the South American country’s general election, with the liberal coalition that has ruled for more than 14 years facing its toughest challenge yet from a resurgent conservative right.

The nation, famed for its beef exports and legal cannabis industry, will elect the president and vice president as well as members of both the upper and lower congressional chambers. Voting will go on until 19.30 local time (2230 GMT), with a close race expected.

There are 11 candidates in Uruguay´s presidential race in total. The front-runners - engineer and former mayor of the capital Montevideo, Daniel Martínez, 62, of the Broad Front ruling coalition and lawyer Luis Lacalle Pou, 46, of the right-leaning National Party - rounded off their campaigns on Wednesday with massive rallies.

If Pou takes the helm, the result could bring a further retreat in the region of the so-called Pink Tide of leftists that have included Bolivia´s Evo Morales and Venezuela´s Nicolas Maduro. However, in larger neighbour Argentina, a leftist victory for Alberto Fernandez over President Mauricio Macri is thought likely to rebalance the scales. [nL1N27C02P}

Ahead of the election, Martínez was polling at between 40% and 43%, while Lacalle was in second place with between 25% and 28%.

If no candidate gets over 50% of the vote, the two with the most votes will meet again on the last Sunday of November for a run-off. The third- and fourth-placed candidates have said they will lend their vote share to whoever runs against Martinez, potentially providing Pou with a boost in the second round.

Results are due from 9 p.m. local time on Sunday.

Reporting by Fabian Werner; writing by Adam Jourdan and Aislinn Laing; Editing by Nick Zieminski

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