A socialist was headed for victory in the first round of Uruguay's presidential election today and likely will face a ruling party opponent in a runoff, according to two exit polls.

Tabare Vazquez, 59, of the leftist Broad Front coalition, captured about 39 percent of the ballot to 32 percent for Jorge Batlle, 73, of the ruling Colorado Party, the Factum polling group said.

Factum projected that Luis Lacalle, a former president and nominee of the center-right National Party, would finish third with 22 percent and be eliminated from the race.

In the Equipos-Mori poll, Vazquez received 37.5 percent of the exit poll preferences and Batlle received 29.9 percent.

Two minor candidates lagged far behind in the Factum projection, which was broadcast on television.

"This is a night of joy," said Vazquez, who went on television anticipating that final returns would give him a first-round victory.

But he said all projections pointed to another month of campaigning for a Nov. 28 runoff and said: "We have to win two times over."

Authorities said first official returns would be released hours later.

A physician and former Montevideo mayor, Vazquez has harnessed voter cynicism with Uruguay's two traditional parties, taking the government to task for double-digit unemployment and not meeting health, housing and educational needs.