MONTEVIDEO: Uruguayans will pick a successor to leftist President Tabare Vazquez on Sunday (Oct 27) as well as voting on crime-busting constitutional reform to establish a military police force and create full life terms for the most serious offences.
The South American nation has long been considered a bastion of peace and stability in an often turbulent region but that has been called into question recently by a declining security situation.
"Democracy in Uruguay is very strong and must be protected from risks," Vazquez told reporters on Thursday in his final message before Uruguay's 2.6 million voters head to the urns.
The vote comes on the same day as a general election in Argentina and against a backdrop of regional strife following massive street protests in Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia, the latter over alleged electoral fraud.
In 2018, South America's second smallest country registered a record 414 murders, up 45 per cent on the year before.
The alarming hike prompted the question on whether or not to accept a proposal to change the constitution, creating a military National Guard.
It would also allow for full life sentences – reviewable after 30 years – in a country with a current maximum term of 32 years.
Other clauses would set tougher sentences for murder and rape, and authorise police to conduct nighttime raids on the homes of suspected drug dealers.
The vote should be tight with opinion polls showing between 39 and 53 per cent support for the reform.
Security has been a major campaign issue as the Broad Front looks to win a fourth consecutive term.
In power since 2005, the Front faces a tough test for reelection with voters angered by a stagnant economy, inflation of 7.5 per cent and 9 per cent unemployment.
Their candidate this time around – there is no re-election in Uruguay – is 62-year-old Daniel Martinez, the former mayor of Montevideo.
He leads with 40 per cent in opinion polls but that's not enough to win outright in the first round.
Former senator Luis Lacalle Pou of the centre-right National Party has 28 per cent but, unlike Martinez, he is more likely to benefit from a united front in an eventual second round on Nov 24.
Lacalle Pou, 46, would be able to count on historic rivals the liberal Colorado Party, led by economist Ernesto Talvi and the right-wing debutant Open Cabildo, led by former army commander-in-chief Guido Manini Rios.