Colombia’s Zuluaga pushes Santos to presidential runoff vote

BOGOTA, (Reuters) – Opposition candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga won the most votes in Colombia’s presidential election yesterday but fell short of a first-round victory and will face President Juan Manuel Santos in a runoff that casts doubts over peace talks with Marxist rebels.

Zuluaga had 29.3 percent support and Santos trailed on 25.6 percent with returns in from almost 99 percent of voting tables. They had needed more than 50 percent for victory so will now go to a runoff on June 15.

The election was largely seen as a plebiscite on Santos’ strategy of negotiating a peace deal with Marxist guerrillas to end a 50-year-old war that has killed some 200,000 people.

Zuluaga, a right-wing former finance minister, accuses Santos of pandering to terrorists and has suggested he would scrap the peace talks in favour of U.S.-backed military campaigns similar to those led by his mentor, former President Alvaro Uribe.

“Security is important to us; we are 100 percent with Zuluaga,” said Jose Gomez, 39, as he left a Bogota polling station with his wife and daughter.

Santos, 62, fell out with Uribe after launching peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) instead of sticking to Uribe’s strategy of forcing the group’s surrender on the battlefield.

Santos appeals to Colombians who hope the guerrillas will negotiate peace and lay down their weapons after seeing top leaders killed and their numbers halved to about 8,000 fighters over the last 12 years.

The talks in Cuba have yielded agreements on three items of a five-point agenda, including one deal just signed in which the FARC agreed to step away from the drug trade and another which would allow the FARC to take part in politics.

 

Zuluaga, 55, has galvanized conservative Colombians who believe the talks will fail like three similar attempts since the 1980s, including one that allowed the FARC to bolster its ranks and extend its involvement in the cocaine trade.

Although the results on Sunday were a blow to Santos, he could receive the backing of two other candidates, Enrique Penalosa and Clara Lopez, who both support negotiations with the FARC and together garnered close to 24 percent Of the vote.

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