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Santos wins first round of presidential vote, heads to run-off

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-05-31

Former Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos was leading a first round of the country's presidential election with 47 percent of votes, but was short of votes needed to avoid a June runoff with rival Antanas Mockus, officials said Sunday.

REUTERS - Former Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos easily won a first round presidential election but was short of votes needed to avoid a June runoff with rival Antanas Mockus, officials said on Sunday.

Santos, an ally of President Alvaro Uribe, led with 47 percent of votes, while Mockus, a former Bogota mayor, had 22 percent with 96 percent of polling stations counted, according to electoral authorities.

Santos failed to reach the more than 50 percent of votes to clinch outright victory but his lead over Mockus and his political party machinery will give him an advantage in the June 20 run-off.

Polls had shown Santos in a tight race with Mockus but the surveys may have under-represented his support in rural areas where his security gains as defense minister are best remembered.

Both front-runners say they will keep Uribe’s tough security and pro-market economic policies applauded by investors. Analysts see little long-term impact on the peso or local TES bonds, regardless of the winner.

Uribe, a staunch Washington ally, steps down in August still popular after two terms dominated by his war against drug-trafficking rebels, and his pro-business approach that attracted foreign investment, especially in oil and mining.

A constitutional court barred him from a third term.

Santos, a U.S.- and British-educated economist, led early in the race, but Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants who is also a former university professor, had surged with a Green Party campaign against graft and “politics as usual.”

But Santos re-engineered his campaign and focused on jobs while Mockus hit a ceiling in support after making gaffes in presidential debates and media appearances.

Alliances could be key in a second round. As head of Uribe’s strong U Party, Santos will seek out the Conservative and Cambio Radical parties. Mockus, whose Green Party has few seats in Congress, will seek support from the center.

In third place was Cambio Radical’s German Vargas Lleras, a former Uribe ally, with 10 percent, followed by leftist candidate Gustavo Petro, who has flirted with a Mockus alliance, with 9 percent.

Polls show Colombians now more concerned with joblessness, education and healthcare than guerrilla violence and many are weary of the scandals over human rights and corruption that blemished Uribe’s second term.

The next leader inherits better security and investment but also a slow economic recovery, a wide deficit, double-digit unemployment and a trade dispute with Venezuela, where socialist President Hugo Chavez is riled over U.S. influence.

Latin America’s No. 4 oil producer and a top coal and coffee exporter, Colombia is enjoying a boom in energy and mining investment but the next president must manage an influx of commodity dollars that will pressure the peso.

Once mired in fighting among paramilitaries, rebels and cocaine lords, Colombia enjoyed a dramatic turnaround under Uribe, whose father was killed by FARC guerrillas.

Backed by billions of dollars in U.S. aid, Uribe sent troops to reclaim areas once under the control of armed groups, and kidnappings, bombings and massacres dropped sharply.

Date created : 2010-05-31


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