Uribe’s presidential candidate leads in polls but could face run-off
Former Colombian Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos leads the race to succeed President Alvaro Uribe in a May election after a court barred the president from seeking re-election, according to a public opinion poll released this week.
Santos, a close ally of Uribe, garnered 23% in the February 27 poll, up from 13% in a survey conducted in December, according to the poll by Ipsos Napoleon Franco and broadcast by RCN radio.
Leftist Senator Gustavo Petro, one of Uribe's fiercest critics, leads the remaining candidates with 11% while former Medellin Mayor Sergio Fajardo garnered 9% along with veteran politician German Vargas Lleras.
Since it seems no candidate will secure more than 50% in the May 30 vote, the election likely will be decided by a second round in June. The poll surveyed 1,000 people in more than ten cities across the country and had a 3.1 percent margin of error.
Uribe, a close Washington ally, was barred from re-election by the Constitutional Court on Friday, meaning he will be forced to step aside after two terms that were highlighted by his crackdown on leftist guerrillas and cocaine traffickers. He has proved to be the most popular leader in recent Colombian history.
Santos has been closely associated with Uribe's security successes as defence minister. But he could struggle to keep the Uribe coalition together as other political parties within the alliance may present their own candidates for the presidential race.
Meantime it was reported from southern Colombia that Santos and members of his Social party of National Unity, (U Party) which supports president Uribe, have received death threats from the leftist guerrillas.
Apparently a message to that effect was left at the hotel in Florencia where Santos is campaigning for the May election.
“The southern block of the Colombia Revolutionary Armed Forces, FARC here by states that candidate Santos and members of the U party have become military targets”, read the short notice.
Santos ignored the message and promised he would continue with “democratic security” policy so successful in combating drugs and terrorism, but added that “we have never been closed to dialogue in good faith”.
“What they are promising are terrorist actions against Colombian citizens”, said Santos.
The three years in which Santos was Defence minister (2006/2009) have been considered as the most successful and effective in fighting the 45 year FARC guerrilla group.
In March 2008, FARC number two and heir was killed and his laptops with vital information captured.
In July the same year in a spectacular operation the Colombian Army rescued without firing a shot fifteen hostages including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three US advisors.
Under Santos command the Colombian forces managed to kill, capture or convinced to turn in several “historic and emblematic” names of the FARC guerrilla which for the first time in decades is on retreat.
Next March 14 Colombians will vote for 102 Senators and 166 members of the Lower House and on May 30 the successor of President Uribe.