Path: ICPP > ICPP 1980 > List of Countries --> Uruguay
Kenneth Janda
Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey
New York: The Free Press, 1980: pp. 567-568
URUGUAY: The Party System in 1950-1956 and 1957-1962
(Text as published in 1980 citation above)

Uruguay is the smallest country in South America and the least typical in terms of its social, economic, and political institutions. Its population of approximately 3 million is almost entirely of European descent; the literacy rate and standard of living are both high; and it has a large urban class, with more than a third of the population living in the capital city of Montevideo. The state owns and operates a variety of businesses, and it has supported an extensive social welfare program for many years. Finally, it has a long history of two-party politics, stretching back before the middle of the nineteenth century.

Uruguay's major parties were formed in 1836, when followers of the new president, Manuel Oribe wore white hat bands into battle against followers of the former president Fructuoso Rivera, who were distinguished by red bands. The Blancos (whites) and the Colorados (reds) continued their struggle for control of the national government, with the Colorados (primarily the urban-oriented party), gaining the upper hand over the more traditional Blancos, who formally became known as the National Party. The great Colorado president José Batlle y Ordóñez launched the state social programs and advocated a plural executive, under which the country was governed from 1919 to 1934 (and again later). The plural executive tended to discourage the monopoly of power within the Colorado Party. Although the Colorados headed the government throughout this period, the Blancos usually operated openly as an opposition party.

In 1950, the Colorados split into two major factions, which was in keeping with an electoral system that explicitly recognized factions (sublemas) as divisions of parties (lemas). Votes cast for sublemas could be combined at the lema level to determine the winner between the Blancos and Colorados. Thus in 1950, although the Blanco leader Luis Alberto de Herrera outpolled his two Colorado opponents, Andrés Martínez Trueba on the sublema called "List 15" and Cesar Mayo Gutiérrez on "List 14," he lost the presidency to Martinez Trueba after the Colorados had combined the votes of their sublemas. A faction of the Blanco Party, the Independent Blancos, decided not to run as a sublema, and Herrera could not avail himself of their votes. Herrera nevertheless did get the opportunity to serve in the government, as Uruguay returned to a plural executive in 1952, with six seats on the nine-man council going to the majority party (Colorados) and three to the minority party (Blancos). The election of 1954 brought another victory for the Colorados, specifically List 15 led now by Luis Batlle Berres, and the Blancos had to be content with their three seats on the Council--where they sniped at the Colorados and contributed to the domestic unrest brought on by an economic decline.

In the elections of 1958, Herrera's Blanco faction drew some organizational support away from List 15 of the Colorado party and gained a major ally as the former Independent Blancos reorganized as the Democratic Blanco Union and registered as a sublema in the Blanco (National) Party. The result was a clear victory for the Blanco Party, ending some 90 years of Colorado control of the government. Despite Herrera's death in 1959 and factional quarrels within the party, the Blancos managed to repeat their victory over the Colorados in 1962, thus dividing our time period into an era of Colorado government followed by one of Blanco government.

Continuity and Change since 1962

From 1950 to 1962, Uruguay provided the South American example of a competitive two-party system, and so it continued until 1973, when the military dissolved the congress and suspended normal party activities. The current government intends to hold elections in the 1980s, and it appears that the two original parties will be allowed to resume operations. No new parties qualified for study.

Original Parties, Continuing

381 Colorado (Red) Party. The Colorados were restored to governmental leadership in the 1966 elections and won again in a close election in 1971. The new president, Juan María Bordaberry, was confronted with military intervention in 1973. He remained in office until deposed in 1976.

382 National Party. Commonly known as Blancos' (whites), the National Party led the government until; 1966, when the plural executive system was ended and the presidency was restored. Like the Colorados, the Blancos found their activities curtailed with the dissolution of congress in 1973.


In addition to these traditional rival parties, several leftist parties were joined in a front organization, Frent Izquierda de Liberación (FIDEL), which won 5 percent of the seats in the 1966 election and 18 percent in 1971 under a broader grouping, Frente Amplio. These leftist parties were banned in 1973. It seems certain that the Colorados and Blancos will reappear when elections an held, but it is not clear if leftist parties will be allowed operate. In any event, the stability of the 1950-1962 period may be hard to recapture in Uruguay.

[For party politics in Uruguay since 1962, see the essay by Kathryn B. Sanderson]

1. Our study of party politics in Uruguay assembled a file of 697 pages from 39 documents 8 of which are in Spanish, the rest in English (see Table 1.3). The bibliographic search and indexing of material for the file was done by Jean Jacobsohn, assisted by Marcelino Miyares and Richard Greenfield. Greenfield coded the Uruguayan parties on the variables in the ICPP conceptual framework, but he completed his coding after leaving Northwestern and did much of the coding without benefit of the files. George Blanksten and Frank Safford were our consultants.