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Former defense minister Santos dominates in Colombia election

May 31, 2010 | 11:09 am

Santos colombia viote

Colombian voters belied polls leading up to voting on Sunday and cast ballots overwhelmingly for Juan Manuel Santos to be their next president. Santos, a former defense minister and heir apparent to current President Alvaro Uribe, a strong U.S. ally, captured 46.6% of votes, reports said. Antanas Mockus, the surging Green Party candidate, came in second with 21.5% of votes, while other minor candidates made up the rest of the turnout.

Santos fell just short of achieving a simple majority; a runoff is set for June 20. But with the margin between the two top vote-getters so wide, analysts are predicting an eventual win for Santos. The question now is: Why were the polls so off?

Pollsters told El Tiempo that voters appeared to make their choice in the "final hour" of the campaign, referring to the last week of the race when polls were not conducted (link in Spanish). In this video for the newspaper Semana, journalist Rodrigo Pardo attributed Santos' comfortable margin to the wide support he received from the Colombian establishment in media, government and business.

Plus, Pardo said, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez played a factor. Chavez has been sharply critical of Uribe and Santos, which sparks nationalist sentiment among Colombian voters. Santos was seen as a symbol of continuity for the aggressive efforts that Uribe undertook against the FARC rebel forces.

Among Semana's "winners and losers" in the election, the paper names in general terms "the polls" for being so off the mark heading into the Sunday's voting.

El Tiempo has figures on an interactive map showing how the voting went among Colombian expatriates. Mockus won in voting in Canada, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, England, Germany, France, India and South Africa. Santos did well among Colombians living in Central American and Middle Eastern countries. In the United States, home to the largest concentration of Colombian voters abroad, Santos beat Mockus by a wide margin of nearly 50%.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Juan Manuel Santos celebrating his electoral win. Credit: El Tiempo