Uruguay elects moderate civilian to end military rule

Uruguay's first election after 11 years of military rule is seen as a vote for moderation. The man Uruguayans elected Sunday as president - Julio Sanguinetti of the centrist Colorado Party - projected himself throughout the campaign as a seasoned politician and a cautious reformer.

He is widely viewed as the principal politician responsible for ensuring the military's acceptance of democracy.

A few months ago Uruguay's military President, Gen. Gregorio Alvarez, gave few signs that the armed forces would give up power. The government clamped down on press freedoms, broke up demonstrations, and imprisoned several political leaders.

But in August Mr. Sanguinetti managed to get military approval for a staggered - as opposed to an immediate - transfer of power. The ''pacto del club naval'' guaranteed the military's neutrality in the Nov. 25 election on the condition that senior officers would retain a limited role in the government as members of an advisory national-security council. Two key politicians still were barred from running for office, but the military agreed to make way for civilian rule.

Sanguinetti negotiating skills will be tested again after his scheduled March 1 inauguration. He won the largest share of votes, but it was only 38.8 percent of ballots cast. Therefore he will find it difficult to govern unless he takes into account opinions of the other major parties, the Blancos and the Broad Front, which took political positions to the left of his Colorados in the campaign. He must also also deal delicately with the military, which remains strong and will be watching him closely.

The incoming government's room for maneuver will also be limited by the difficult economic situation that it will inherit from the military regime. Uruguay's foreign debt of $4.6 billion, although small by Latin American standards, is one of the highest per capita in South America. Real salaries have fallen by 50 percent since 1973 while unemployment and inflation have risen to historic highs of 16 percent and 70 percent respectively.

Sanguinetti is well aware that he must work with his electoral opponents.

''This country is not going to affirm democracy if we do not have five years of a collective effort,'' Sanguinetti said Monday after his election victory. ''Nobody has a mathematical method to prevent a new coup; the only way is to act maturely.''

Throughout his campaign, Sanguinetti steered clear of inflamatory, antimiltarist rhetoric and promised only modest changes in the outgoing government's economic program. He has always projected himself as the main architect of the ''historic compromise.'' He insisted that only a modus vivendi with the military would ensure the stability of the future democratic institutions.

These positions are in striking contrast to the campaigns of the center-left Blanco Party and the left-wing Broad Front. The communists in the Broad Front had conspicuously put away the red flags and revolutionary slogans that had scared off voters in the last Uruguayan election, in 1971, but Sunday's vote results showed the large middle class remained alienated from it.

In fact, the middle class rejected both the Front and the Blancos' calls for sweeping curbs on the local banking sector and for agrarian reform.

Only a few weeks ago the Blancos were claiming to be the favorites to win the election. But they were weakened by the imprisonment of their leader, Wilson Ferreira Aldunate. Wilson, as he known in Uruguay, saw his stature grow into mythical proportions during exile because of his attacks on the regime. The tension and euphoria that surrounded his return in June were catalysts for the military's liberalization.

But the Blancos' poor showing in Sunday's election - with 33 percent of the votes - seemed to confirm the view long held by his opponents once Wilson returned home, much of his support would evaporate. The leftist Broad Front received 20.8 percent of the vote.

Although victorious in the presidential race, the Colorados have failed to win a commanding majority either in the senate or the lower house. This same pattern has been seen in earlier elections, and it, too, will make Sanguinetti's governing duties more difficult.

''Unless he works out a workable consensus he won't last more than a few months,'' guesses one diplomat.

He will have to deal with Wilson, whose release from prison is expected in the next few days. And he will have to deal with the Broad Front, whose ace in the whole is its control of the trade-union movement.

Sanguinetti, who local observers say commands the respect of foreign governments, also has touchy negotiations ahead with foreign powers. He has appealed to the United States and the European Community to lower trade barriers against its wool exports. He has also asked bankers for a two- to three-year grace period for some of the debt that falls due next year. He has said his country's economic recovery depends to a large extent on factors beyond his control.

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