Colombia election surprise: Juan Manuel Santos routs Antanas Mockus

Polls had suggested that upstart Antanas Mockus was in a dead heat with Juan Manuel Santos in the Colombia presidential election. But Mr. Santos won the first round handily. He will face Mr. Mockus on the final ballot on June 20.

By , Staff writer

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    Colombian indigenous voters cast their ballots in Silvia Sunday. Juan Manuel Santos won the first round convincingly, taking 46.6 percent of the vote. Antanas Mockus came second with 21.5 percent.
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A race that was in a deadlock ahead of presidential elections in Colombia today ended with a clear lead for former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, who captured 46.6 percent of votes.

Because Mr. Santos, a staunch ally of conservative President Álvaro Uribe, did not get 50 percent of the votes, he will face off against former Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus on June 20. Mr. Mockus, second in a field of nine candidates, captured 21.5 percent of votes.

Mockus had surged before the race, with polls showing he would capture 32 percent of votes, just slightly less than Santos with 34 percent. Many analysts surmised that his popularity represented a shift in priorities for Colombians, away from security and towards jobs and more transparency.

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But the results of the first round Sunday, with 99 percent of votes counted, show that security remains a top concern. Otilia Girado, who was born on the islands around the Caribbean city of Cartagena, says that President Uribe's tough stance against guerrillas, drug lords, and paramilitaries transformed their lives. Before he was president, fewer visitors came to Cartagena – and the islands – because they were afraid of violence in surrounding rural areas, she says.

“Now we have jobs,” says Ms. Girado, looking on a beach overrun with tourists on a recent day. “I hope that Santos continues to keep the peace, because nothing matters without peace.”

Unexpected turnabout

Both candidates promised they would not negotiate with the the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but Santos, who served as defense minister under Uribe, was the obvious candidate of continuity. Although Mockus was neck and neck with Santos in the weeks leading up to the race, Santos crushed Mockus today.

The latest Ipsos Napoleon Franco poll on May 23 showed that in a runoff, Mockus would win with 45 percent of votes, compared with 40 percent for Santos. But it appears Mockus faces a tough battle in the weeks ahead of June 20.

Mockus, the Green Party candidate who has largely shunned traditional politics, relied on social networking sites such as Facebook to fuel his campaign. He has appealed to so many here, especially university students, the same way “outsiders” have won elections among voters tired of traditional politics across Latin America.

Mockus's 'outsider' image

Mockus, who was a popular mayor of Bogotá, is known for the priority he gives good governance. As mayor, he dubbed himself “Super Citizen” as a lesson for other capital residents to follow.

While Uribe has received high marks from fans and foes alike for his security policies, he has come increasingly under fire for the human rights and political scandals that have rocked his presidency, including claims of illegal wiretapping and illegal military killings.

Across the country, from the capital Bogotá to the city of Medellín to the steamy city of Cartagena, residents say they hoped Mockus could bring a new style of governance to Colombia.

Yet Mockus was equally known for his antics. Most well-known of all: the time he mooned the university in Bogotá when he was serving as rector. And that has turned some voters off. Candelaria Colon Bello, who voted for Santos today, says Mockus seems to her naive. “Santos is more serious,” she says. “Colombia needs a serious president.”

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