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Philosopher Antanas Mockus rattles Colombia election

Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus – a mathematician, philosopher, and former mayor Bogotá – has seen a surge in popularity in the Colombia election. What sets him apart, he tells the Monitor, is his 'decency.'

By Sibylla BrodzinskyCorrespondent / May 28, 2010



Santa Marta, Colombia

The airport security guard's wand squealed when it passed over the pocket of presidential candidate Antanas Mockus's trousers as he prepared to embark on a recent campaign trip.

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Puzzled, Mr. Mockus reached in and pulled out a No. 2 pencil with a metallic band around the eraser.

"They discovered my weapon," he says, recalling the incident with an impish smile. The pencil is one of the symbols of his campaign, which emphasizes education as a tool to transform society.

A few months ago, no one thought Mockus – a mathematician, philosopher, and former mayor of Colombia's capital, Bogotá – had much of a chance in the elections, but his unorthodox campaign style has turned Col­ombia's race for the presidency on its head.

Rising from a distant 3 percent in opinion polls in March, Mockus has surged over 30 percent, placing him in a dead heat with former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, considered the heir to the legacy of the famously popular president, Álvaro Uribe.

The latest Ipsos-Napoleon Franco poll gives Mr. Santos 34 percent of the vote in the first round, compared with 32 percent for Mockus. But if neither candidate secures the 50 percent of the vote needed to win outright in the first round, Mockus would win a run-off with 45 percent to Santos’ 40 percent on June 20, according to the May 23 poll.

'Super Citizen' antics

Mockus's political career has been marked by his steadfast refusal to participate in traditional party politics. As mayor of Bogotá, he made a name for himself with his wacky antics, such as dressing up in spandex tights as "Super Citizen." But he is also recognized for his uncompromising honesty and zero tolerance for corruption.

It is that quality that appears to have captured the imagination of a nation that has tired of corruption, vote buying, and an "anything goes" attitude.

"Mockus represents a new way of doing politics," says analyst Ricardo Garcia, "and he has managed to act as a catalyst for the desire of voters to do away with the political favors and short cuts" that have historically plagued politics in Colombia.

That has allowed him to win over followers from both the pro-Uribe camp and the opposition. "Some Uribistas see him as a good follow-up to Uribe, and the opposition sees him as a much-needed change," Mr. Garcia says.

Francisco Sanchez, a business consultant, says that he sees many similarities in the proposals from Mr. Santos and Mockus; the difference is the way that the two men do politics.

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