Colombia presidential candidates seek alliances for runoff

BOGOTA (Reuters) – President Juan Manuel Santos and opposition challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga scrambled yesterday to win the support of candidates eliminated from Colombia’s presidential election and gain the upper hand ahead of a runoff vote next month.

Zuluaga, a right-wing former finance minister, won most votes in the first round of voting on Sunday after campaigning to roll back Santos’ peace talks with Marxist guerrillas. He now faces Santos in a runoff on June 15.

Both men immediately began seeking alliances and wooing supporters of the three candidates knocked out of the race on Sunday. All three were in consultations with their parties to determine who they will back.

Zuluaga spoke with third-placed candidate Marta Lucia Ramirez, who is also skeptical of the peace talks and could throw her support behind him.

“I have great hope that she will join me and form a team that will allow us to reach the presidency,” Zuluaga said of Ramirez, who won 15.5 percent of the vote on Sunday.

Clara Lopez and Enrique Penalosa, who came in third and fourth with a combined 23.5 per cent of the vote, support negotiations with the FARC and so may be more inclined to side with the president. Seeking their support, Santos said all three of the losing candidates had made “important proposals” that could be made “reality together” over the next four years.

Zuluaga won 29.3 per cent support in the first round, 3.6 percentage points more than Santos.

He has run an aggressive campaign against Santos’ peace talks, but in an apparent effort to win over moderates he offered yesterday to put a limit on prison sentences for rebel leaders of the Revolu-tionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

“FARC leaders who have committed atrocious crimes, crimes against humanity who should spend 50 years in jail, I’m willing to reduce their sentences to six years,” the 55-year-old economist told Colombian media.

The FARC has refused to accept prison terms or the unilateral ceasefire that Zuluaga is demanding.

Negotiations in Cuba to end Colombia’s 50-year civil war appear to be in limbo until the election is decided.

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