Noemi Sanin, Colombia's former foreign minister, won the country's Conservative Party candidacy for May's presidential election. Sanin, the only female presidential candidate, will challenge front-runner Juan Manuel Santos in the election.
REUTERS - Colombia's former foreign minister Noemi Sanin won the country's Conservative Party Candidacy for May's presidential election in a decision that risks splitting President Alvaro Uribe's political coalition.
Sanin, the only female presidential candidate, will challenge front-runner Juan Manuel Santos in the election and try to leverage her party's strong results in Sunday's legislative vote as capital for her run at the top job.
Uribe, popular for his U.S.-backed security campaign against leftist guerrillas, must step aside after two terms. He leaves six serious candidates competing to replace him as president of the world's No. 3 coffee exporter.
"I call on my party to unite," Sanin said in a victory speech at her Bogota headquarters. "Now there is only one team."
In power since 2002, Uribe took the fight to the FARC or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, smashing Latin America's oldest insurgency to its weakest in decades. Violence has ebbed and investment soared and any candidate who replaces Uribe is unlikely to steer too far from his basic policies.
Santos, leader of Uribe's U Party which is in a coalition with the Conservatives, claims to be the heir to the president's security and pro-investment ideas.
He is leading in opinion polls but does not have enough support to avoid a run-off in June, polls and analysts say.
Conservatives eye victory
Sanin, a former ambassador to Britain, won 1,118,090 votes versus 1,080,313 votes for nearest rival Andres Felipe Arias, according to tallies from more than 99 percent of results.
Arias, a former agriculture minister, had suggested he could strike a deal with Santos to present a single candidate for the Uribe alliance.
But Sanin, who has run for the presidency twice before, said she would "go to the end" for her own party rather than joining with Santos and the U Party.
The results from the internal ballot were delayed since Sunday's vote because of polling station errors and technical glitches in transmitting data.
Sunday's Conservative Party vote took place at the same time as Colombians elected a new Congress in which the U Party and the Conservatives maintained their majority in both houses of the legislature. But the Conservative showing is prompting party chieftains to see their chance to replace Uribe.
Should she make a second round against Santos, Sanin could position herself as a moderate who would maintain Uribe's policies but in alliance with opposition parties against Santos, said Mauricio Romero, political science professor at Bogota's Javeriana University. .
"There are two trends in the party. Arias represents Uribe supporters and Sanin the more reformist sector," he said. "The Conservatives now see a better chance at the presidency."
Date created : 2010-03-20