Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday night promised a government “of all and for all” should he win a June 20 run-off vote to become Colombia’s next president.
The close ally of incumbent Álvaro Uribe is favourite to win, after a surge in support on Sunday left him just shy of outright victory, and the traditional Conservative and Liberal Parties trailing in fifth and sixth position respectively.
“My government will be a government of inclusion, for all Colombians,” Mr Santos told his supporters after garnering 46.6 per cent of the vote.
Underscoring the degree of flux in Colombia’s political landscape, Mr Santos thanked members of the Conservative, Liberal and other parties who had defected to the U-Party he co-founded with Mr Uribe.
“The U [party] has been reconfirmed as the premier political force in the country,” a buoyant Mr Santos said, citing the March 14 congressional elections in which the U Party secured 27 Senate seats, the Conservatives 23 and the Liberals 18.
Mr Santos extended his “respect” to his closest rival, Antanas Mockus, an unorthodox mathematician and two-time mayor of Bogota who had been running neck-and-neck with Mr Santos in the past month, and to Mr Mockus’s “enthusiastic and patriotic” supporters.
Mr Mockus won 21.5 per cent of the vote on Sunday, followed by Germán Vargas Lleras of Radical Change with 10.13 per cent, Gustavo Petro of the left’s Democratic Pole Party, Noemí Sanín , of the Conservatives with 6.14 per cent and Rafael Pardo of the Liberal Party with 4.38 per cent.
Mr Mockus, in between shouts of “Yes we can!” and “Life is sacred!” told his supporters they were part of “a green wave of hope” that could prevail on election day. “We represent a new citizenship that is beginning to assess the policy and wishes to participate …[you have the chance] to move towards a deep cultural change for a country free of violence, drug-trafficking and corruption.”
Mr Mockus’s promises to continue the economic and security policies of the Uribe administration but tackle corruption struck a chord with a sleaze-weary public, prompting Mr Santos to rejig his campaign in recent weeks.
At a polling station in Bogota’s affluent north, Hernando Gaitan, a 42-year-old architect, said he voted for Mr Mockus “because it is good to change the political habits of the people; he reaches the conscience of the people.”
Andrés Correa, a 41-year-old businessman who lives in Venezuela but travelled home to cast his vote, seemed to sum up the dilemma facing many Colombian, however, saying he had voted for Mr Santos because “it’s dangerous to change policy at this time”. Once the Farc had been defeated, he would vote for Mr Mockus, he added.
While Mr Uribe, who is constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term, has enjoyed consistently high approval ratings because of his administration’s strides in improving security, many Colombians are sceptical of the scandal-ridden political class.
A 2008 political scandal saw 62 members of Congress investigated for alleged links with paramilitary groups, the country’s intelligence service was revealed to have conducted widespread illegal wiretapping of the judiciary, politicians and the media, and 27 army officers were sacked after it came to light that they had systematically kidnapped and murdered civilians to boost “body counts” used as a performance indicator.
Alliances will be crucial in the three-week campaign to come.
“The collapse of Ms Sanín and Mr Pardo is amazing - those two parties [the Conservatives and Liberals] utterly dominated the Congress and Senate until 2002 and now they appear to be finished as a new order emerges,” said Rupert Stebbings, managing director of Celfin Capital’s Colombia Unit.
Many market observers are neutral on a Mockus presidency, but Mr Stebbings said Mr Santos’s good showing on Sunday was a “very market friendly result”.
Additional reporting by Maria Ines Carizosa in Bogota
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