Colombian election heats up

May 7, 2010

Just a month ago all seemed set for Juan Manuel Santos to secure Colombia’s presidency. Santos, a former defense minister for President Alvaro Uribe, is credited with some of the most successful operations against the country’s FARC guerrillas. But now Santos has a fight on his hands after the surprising surge for two-time Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus. 

COLOMBIA-ELECTION/ Known as much for his successful city administration as for his off-beat style, Mockus has won supporters with his message of clean government and continuity of Uribe’s policies. Polls now show Colombians are more concerned with bread-and-butter issues like jobs, healthcare and education than with violence from the waning war.

Could Santos be a victim of Uribe’s security success in that Colombians now see the need for someone like Mockus, who promises to crack down on corruption and pay more attention to social and economic development? Or is Santos paying the price for scandals over rights abuses and corruption that rattled Uribe’s second term?

Both men will guarantee the continuity of Colombia’s tough security and pro-business approach. But Mockus has caught voter attention for now with a fresh approach that contrasts sharply with the way conservative Uribe ran the presidency.

A former university rector, he once dropped his pants and showed his backside to students to get their attention. As mayor he used street mimes to shame Bogota residents into obeying the law. He says he is more conservative now and touts his fiscal management and his solid law-and-order record in the capital as credentials for the presidency. 

Undoubtedly the race is still very tight, but after eight years of Uribe could Colombians be ready for a change in style in the presidential office?

 Reuters photo by Jose Miguel Gomez

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