Colombia’s Santos seen strong in runoff election against Mockus

Former Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos will enter a presidential runoff in a strong position after voters gave him a comfortable lead in the first-round vote on Sunday.

With no candidate securing more than 50 percent of the votes needed to avoid the June runoff, Santos, an ally of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, will face off with former Bogotá Mayor Antanas Mockus on June 20. He led Mockus by 47 percent to 22 percent with most polling stations counted.

Whoever takes the helm of the Andean nation will inherit a waning, cocaine-fuelled insurgency, a boom in the expansion of the commodities’ sectors and increased appetite for Colombian assets.

Santos’ commanding lead against his main rival, Mockus, defied the trend of recent opinion polls, which showed the two deadlocked in the first round and likely headed for a tie in the runoff. Santos won every state, except for one province, according to electoral results. He will also enter second-round campaigning bolstered by his U Party’s dominant role in Congress. Mockus, who surged in opinion polls before the vote due to his push for clean government and more jobs, will have to take a tough look at his campaign in the next round after getting only about a fifth of the national vote. His party has only a few seats in Congress and lacks the political machinery of the U Party. That may make beating Santos insurmountable in the runoff.

Alliances in the second round will be key to winning the presidency. Santos will seek support from the Conservative and Cambio Radical parties, while Mockus will try to claim the moderate, middle ground. The leftist Democratic Pole Party will also play a role in any grouping to oppose a pro-Uribe candidate.

Colombia’s peso currency and local TES bonds are not expected to react on Monday due to a holiday in the United States and since the June runoff was widely expected. The two candidates are seen continuing Uribe’s pro-investment policies. Market players generally see Santos as more favorable due to the expected continuity of Uribe’s policies and strong presence of his party in Congress. Mockus — whose party is weak in Congress — would have a tougher time pushing through legislation. Santos’ strong showing in the first round may irk neighbors Ecuador and Venezuela. They have had strained ties with Colombia, the main U.S. ally in the region, since an attack against Colombia’s FARC guerrillas on Ecuadorean soil — an operation that occurred while Santos was defense minister. Late last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said he hoped Colombia’s next leader would want dialogue.

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