COLOMBIA: Presidential Results Due in June

  • by Constanza Vieira (bogota)
  • Inter Press Service

Although no candidate secured half of the votes Sunday to win outright, former defence minister Juan Manuel Santos took more than double the votes of his chief rival, math professor and former Bogotá mayor Antanas Mockus of the Green Party, according to the preliminary results.

Santos, the candidate for the Party of the U and a close ally of right-wing President Álvaro Uribe, earned 46.6 percent of the vote, against Mockus's 21.5 percent. The two will face off in a second round on Jun. 20.

Opinion polls, which have consistently projected a second-round tie between the two leading candidates, will once again be put to the test on that occasion.

The alliances struck by the candidates will also play a key role.

Right-wing candidate Germán Vargas took third place, with 10 percent of the vote, although he ranked sixth in the opinion polls.

Although Vargas is a staunch supporter of the government's democratic security policy, he opposed Uribe's unsuccessful bid for a constitutional reform that would have allowed the president to run for a third consecutive term.

This stance distanced Uribe and Vargas, who has suffered two attempts on his life.

Gustavo Petro of the left-wing Alternative Democratic Pole came in third, with nine percent of the vote -- only half the level of support obtained by the candidate fielded by the left four years ago, when former Constitutional Court magistrate Carlos Gaviria came in second place after winning the largest number of votes ever for a leftist party in Colombia.

Former foreign minister Noemí Sanín failed to win the solid support of the pro-Uribe Conservative Party as she had hoped, and garnered just six percent of the vote.

The Liberal Party, the main opposition force, performed dismally. The party's candidate, another former defence minister, Rafael Pardo, took 4.3 percent of the vote -- barely more than the minimum of four percent needed to receive state financing as a political party.

El Espectador columnist Álvaro Forero wrote that the 15 percentage point difference between poll projections and Mockus's actual performance was partly due to mistakes he made in his campaign.

So far, Mockus has squandered the 'Green Wave', the name given to the citizen movement behind his candidacy, 'which generated a dynamic of the 'useful vote'' -- a strategy in which voters cast their ballots for a candidate they believe can win, Forero wrote.

But the tactic of the 'useful vote' started to weaken when Mockus's star began to wane, while support for Vargas and Petro climbed.

In early May, Santos modified his strategy and hired Juan José Rendón, a Venezuelan campaign strategist who has worked for several right-wing candidates in Latin America and has a reputation as a dirty tricks consultant.

Although the impact of Rendón's secret strategies is not yet clear, Forero believes they gave Santos a boost, as did Uribe's insistent -- albeit illegal -- public support for his candidacy.

'Mockus lost five points to Santos, five points to Vargas, five points to Petro,' Forero calculated. By contrast, 'Santos took five from Mockus and five from Noemí (Sanín)', he told IPS.

Sanín ran as a staunch supporter of Uribe, although later on in the campaign she joined the other candidates in criticising government corruption and complaining about the Santos campaign's use of government support programmes for families and women for electoral purposes.

In short, Santos was seen as the candidate who can provide continuity of the policies of the government of Uribe, whose approval ratings hover between 60 and 70 percent after nearly eight years in office.

Forero said 'The most likely scenario is that this dynamic will favour Santos in the second round,' because the other candidates, whose campaigns were based on promises of 'change with security', with nuances, would have to join together in just three weeks -- 'improbable, but not impossible.'

In the last televised debate, on May 28, all of the candidates lined up against Santos, who was cornered on touchy issues like the scandal over 'false positives' -- young civilians killed by the army and passed off as guerrilla casualties in the counterinsurgency campaign, to gain incentives for soldiers and officers like weekend passes, cash bonuses and promotions.

The extrajudicial killings by the army in exchange for 'results' in the nearly five-decade armed conflict soared during Santos's years as defence minister (2006-2009).

But the campaign is expected to grow fiercer now.

In the first round, voters opposed to Uribe had the option of withdrawing their vote from Mockus and backing Petro, Pardo or Vargas instead, which is what happened, Forero said.

But for Jun. 20, 'the question is what will prevail: continuity or anti-corruption' -- that is, if Mockus manages to 'improve his strategy, which has turned out to be full of holes,' said the analyst.

If all of the votes garnered by Pardo and Petro go to Mockus, along with most of those won by Vargas and Sanín, 'the end result would be close, a tremendous 'voto (for photo) finish' in which the issue of electoral transparency would become decisive,' Forero said.

But according to other analysts, many voters who cast their ballots for Vargas and Sanín will back Santos in the runoff.

Complaints of fraud, such as vote-buying and intimidation, are common in Colombia's elections.

Turnout stood at just under 50 percent Sunday, high by Colombian standards.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service