In a surprise move, the Uruguayan president, Tabaré Vázquez, has left the Socialist Party. The reason for his departure is the harsh criticism levelled at him from the ranks of his own party after his decision to veto a bill to legalize abortion. The bill had been passed by the parliament after months of heated debate by a very narrow margin (49 votes in favour and 48 against).
Compared to regulations in most of Europe, the proposed amendment to the country’s abortion legislation was not particularly revolutionary. It would have given women the right to a therapeutic abortion during the first three months of pregnancy for reasons of medical or social welfare, such as in cases of extreme poverty.
Vázquez, a medical doctor by profession and a specialist in oncology, had made it clear that due to his personal opposition to abortion, he intended to use his right of veto. Supporters of the reform within the Socialist Party stated that they would simply try again once Vázquez was no longer president. There will be general elections in Uruguay in October 2009, and in accordance with the Constitution, Vázquez cannot be re-elected to a second consecutive term.
For the Socialists, the loss of their leader is a significant blow. Vázquez, 68, has been a member of the party since the dictatorship era in the 1970s. As the mayor of Montevideo from 1990 to 1995 he was the first member of a leftist party to occupy a government leadership post. As such, he is a symbolic figure within the Frente Amplio (Broad Front), the leftist coalition currently in power in Uruguay which comprises a number of other left-leaning parties in addition to the Socialist Party.