Landslide win for Santos in Colombian election

Tue, Jun 22, 2010, 01:00

FORMER DEFENCE minister Juan Manuel Santos won a landslide victory in the second round of Colombia’s presidential election on Sunday and immediately promised to continue the outgoing government’s hardline stance against the country’s Marxist guerrillas.

Mr Santos took 69 per cent of the votes, crushing Green Party opponent Antanas Mockus, who had stunned the political establishment by leading his independent campaign into the second round.

The president-elect won in all but one of Colombia’s 33 electoral districts and will take power in August with his allies holding an overwhelming majority in the country’s congress.

His key campaign pledge was to continue the “democratic security” policy of outgoing President Álvaro Uribe who in his eight years in power ordered the military on the offensive against Colombia’s guerrilla movements, winning back swathes of territory and leading to a dramatic drop in killings and kidnappings.

A scion of one of the country’s elite families, which counts a former president and the outgoing vice-president among its members, Mr Santos is seen as an uncharismatic communicator but a good administrator.

He previously served as finance minister and was President Uribe’s defence minister during a string of military successes against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, the biggest of the country’s illegal armed groups. In his victory speech on Sunday night he told the Farc “your time is up – Colombia is emerging from your nightmare of kidnapping and violence” and warned them that while they continued their near half-century struggle for a Marxist revolution there could be no negotiations with his government.

Mr Santos also held out an olive branch to neighbours Venezuela and Ecuador promising his government would govern with “diplomacy and respect”.

Mr Uribe has frequently crossed swords with his ideological foe President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who sent troops to the border last year after Mr Uribe signed an agreement allowing the United States to establish military bases on Colombian territory.

But the new president still faces problems stemming from his role in the 2008 strike on a Farc base in Ecuador that killed the movement’s number two, Raúl Reyes.

The action was popular in Colombia and Mr Santos claimed credit for ordering it. But Ecuador, backed by Venezuela, was furious at the violation of its sovereignty and still threatens to prosecute Mr Santos for his role in the attack.

In the days ahead the new president will try and build a government of national unity by bringing in members of Colombia’s two traditional parties, the Conservatives and Liberals, to join his own U party, which was founded by supporters of Mr Uribe.

The defeated Mr Mockus, whose main rallying cry was the fight against corruption, told his supporters “this story does not end today” and said they had “found a new way to make politics” in a country bedevilled by a crony political culture where support is often purchased with the handing out of offices and state jobs.

He called on them to transform the three and a half million votes he won into the country’s main political opposition.