Voters in Colombia on Sunday will choose a successor to popular right-leaning President Alvaro Uribe, who has served two consecutive terms. His chosen successor, former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, is strongly favoured to win.
REUTERS - Colombians voted on Sunday in a presidential run-off that former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos was expected to win after vowing to continue the incumbent president’s policies on security and the economy.
Santos easily won the first round in May and holds a solid lead in opinion polls over ex-Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus, a former mathematics professor who issued a challenge to traditional parties with a call for cleaner government.
President Alvaro Uribe, Washington’s top ally in the region, steps down in August after a constitutional court barred him from seeking re-election. He has already served two terms, dominated by his war on leftist rebels who once controlled large parts of Latin America’s No. 4 oil producer.
In bloody reminders that the conflict is still simmering, officials said a landmine killed seven police while three soldiers and six guerrillas died in clashes.
Investors will see a victory by Santos as a continuation of Uribe’s security and pro-business policies praised by Wall Street. It would also maintain favorable support in the short term for the peso and local TES bonds.
Support for Santos has continued to grow since he almost beat Mockus outright in the first round, and the latest Invamer-Gallup opinion poll said he could win 66.5 percent of votes, compared with 27.4 percent for Mockus.
“It’s going to be Santos. It seems to me he has the same ideas as Uribe,” said Lauriano Luengas, a mechanic voting for the former minister in north Bogota where military police guarded polling stations. “The country has to keep advancing.”
Whoever wins on Sunday will inherit a much safer country than when Uribe came to power in 2002, but will have to tackle the region’s highest unemployment, a stubborn fiscal deficit and tensions with neighboring Venezuela, where a trade dispute is weighing on Colombia’s economic recovery.
Uribe often had tense ties with his Andean neighbors who ride on anti-U.S. sentiment such as Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez. Santos has also clashed with the socialist Venezuelan.
In February a court blocked an attempt by Uribe supporters to change the constitution to let him run again, opening the way for a short, intense campaign to succeed the leader whose popularity rating still hover around 70 percent.
Nearly half of 30 million eligible voters cast ballots in the May 30 first round, but analysts say turnout could drop by up to 10 percent because of Santos’s lead and the competing attraction of World Cup soccer.
“Watching the World Cup matches is very nice, sport unites people, but it is much nicer after voting and fulfilling one’s democratic duty to take part in the election,” Uribe said after casting his ballot in the capital’s historic Bolivar Plaza.
As head of Uribe’s large U Party, Santos has also won the support of the Conservative and Cambio Radical parties and part of the opposition Liberal Party—giving him a solid position in the Congress if he wins.
“Santos will guarantee strong policy continuity over the next four years with a solid congressional base of support to start with, although governance could prove more challenging over time,” said Eurasia Group analyst Patrick Esteruelas.
Once written off as a failing state, Colombia has seen its long guerrilla war ebb as Uribe used billions of dollars of U.S. aid to send troops to drive back rebels.
With the economy recovering from the global financial crisis, polls show voters are less concerned about security and more worried now about jobs and healthcare.
Uribe’s last four years were marred by arrests of lawmakers for colluding with militia death squads, investigations into soldiers killing civilians to present them as combatants, and a probe into state spies wiretapping journalists and judges.
Santos, who as finance minister helped Colombia weather a fiscal crisis in the 1990s, revamped his campaign to tout his ties to Uribe and focus on his security experience while hitting bread-and-butter issues like jobs, health and housing.
Mockus tapped into voter distaste with scandals and surged in opinion polls before the first round. But gaffes during presidential debates and his often confusing style cost him support as voters wavered over whether he was the firm hand needed to steer a country like Colombia.
Date created : 2010-06-20