CARTAGENA, Colombia – Juan Manuel Santos, a former defense minister who has pledged to maintain President Álvaro Uribe's policies in the war on drugs and anti-terrorism, cruised to a win over a two-time mayor of Bogotá in the first round of the country's president elections.
Santos, who represents the ruling Unity Party (Partido de la U) scored 46.6% of the vote, about 6.7 million votes - more than double the 3.1 million cast for Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus on May 30.
But Santos' showing at the poll wasn't good enough to win him the presidency, as he failed to earn the half-plus-one required to win the Colombia's top job in the first round.
Santos and Mockus will compete in a runoff on June 20, when the candidate with the most votes succeeds Uribe.
“Thanks to you, President Uribe,” Santos, 58, said in his victory speech, “Colombia has lived through one of the most tranquil and secure elections in its history. Thanks to what you have achieved in your government, these elections were not about the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) but about the prospects of more employment, more education and prosperity.”
Santos defeated Mockus, 58, in all but one of the country's 32 departments, according to media reports.
The first-round results showed there's a divide between those who support the continuity of Uribe's policies and those who don't, said political analyst Héctor Riveros.
“As you can see, those candidates that supported Uribe’s views, such as Juan Manuel Santos, Noemí Sanín (Conservative party) and Germán Vargas Lleras (Radical Change party) together amassed more than 62% of the votes,” Riveros said, “while the non-Uribe candidates, Antanas Mockus, Gustavo Petro (Democratic Alternative Pole) and Rafael Pardo (Liberal Party) only obtained 35% of the votes combined.”
Mockus, however, is not accepting defeat in a race that polls indicated would be much closer than the lopsided results produced on May 30.
“We have achieve a goal that seemed hard to reach,” he said to his supporters after the results were released.. “We represent a new kind of citizen, one that is starting to give value to politics and wants to participate.”
The abstention level reached 51%, according to the Colombian daily El Espectador.
Uribe praised the democratic process.
“Colombia has recuperated its political will, which was kidnapped by terrorism,” he said. “Thank you Armed Forces, thank you citizens.”