BOGOTA, Colombia — A conservative former defence minister who promises to build on Alvaro Uribe’s security gains easily defeated a maverick outsider in Colombia’s election Sunday but fell short of the votes needed to avoid a presidential runoff.
Juan Manuel Santos, a political veteran who says he’ll continue President Uribe’s popular pro-Washington policies, won 47 per cent support against 21 per cent for Antanas Mockus, a mathematician who pledged clean government as the Green Party candidate.
Santos, 58, needed a simple majority — 50 per cent plus 1 — to avoid a June 20 runoff. He won in all but one of Colombia’s provinces and even took Bogota, considered a stronghold of Mockus, who twice served as the capital’s mayor.
Uribe was barred by a February court ruling from running for a third straight term.
Finishing third Sunday with 10 per cent was German Vargas of Cambio Radical, which along with Santos’ National Unity party is a member of Uribe’s governing coalition. Trailing him with 9 per cent was the main opposition candidate, Gustavo Petro of the leftist Polo Democratico Alternativo.
Although generally peaceful, Sunday was marked by nearly two dozen clashes with leftist rebels that claimed the lives of at least three soldiers, a potent reminder that Colombia’s half century-old conflict is far from resolved.
The continuing violence — and Mockus’ lack of clarity on how he would deal with it — favoured Santos, a 58-year-old a Cabinet minister in three administrations running for elected office for the first time who had in pre-election polls been in a statistical dead heat with Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants.
Michael Shifter, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Dialogue think-tank , said it appeared “the polls were way off the mark.”
“My sense is that many Colombians were drawn to Mockus, his appealing message and what he represented, but in the end were worried about (electing) a relative novice on security and foreign policy questions,” he said.
Combat was reported Sunday in six regions and most coca-growing centres in the south and west.