MEDELLÍN, Colombia – The race to elect Colombia’s president won’t be decided when voters cast their ballots on May 30, according to the latest polls by Datexco and the Centro Nacional de Consultoría.
The polling services predict a run-off between Juan Manuel Santos, a former defense minister and candidate of the ruling party Partido de la U, and Antanas Mockus, a two-time Bogotá mayor who represents Partido Verde. That’s because neither candidate is expected to receive half the vote plus one required for victory on May 30, sending them to a run-off on June 20, when the man with the most votes will succeed Álvaro Uribe.
Datexco’s poll, released on May 21, had Santos earning 35% of the vote in the first round, just ahead of Mockus’ 34%. But the poll predicts Mockus will secure a one-point victory over Santos in a run-off election.
But Centro Nacional de Consultoría forecasts a different outcome. Its poll has Santos with 39% of the vote in the first round compared to Mockus’ 34% but predicts Santos will earn 47% of the vote in a run-off compared to Mockus’ 46%.
Datexco’s poll also presented participants a list of 35 issues and asked which ones should be “considered a priority” by the prevailing candidate. Eligible voters gave unemployment (52%), healthcare (23%), education (22%), quality of healthcare (19%) and armed conflict (18%) the most votes. By comparison, the country’s relationships with neighboring Ecuador and Venezuela came in 22nd, with 3%.
Ramón Javier Mesa, director of the economics research center (CIE by its Spanish acronym) at the School of Economics of the Universidad de Antioquia, said the next president must strengthen an economic policy that had been weakened by overspending and an overall drop in income.
“[There are] very great weaknesses in the healthcare system due to a lack of funds, and on social security – another hard issue that the new government will have to solve,” he said.
Uribe’s performance during the past eight years will play a major role in whether his Partido de la U remains in power with Santos as the head of state, voters said.
“I supported Uribe in his first term, and I want to keep the successes the president achieved with regard to domestic safety,” said Alba Lucía Pizarro, 47-year-old teacher and engineer. “Now, we need a person from the center who won’t divide us, and who will foster unity among Colombians.”
Julio Castro Tobón, 40, who works in the agricultural industry, said Santos will “maintain what Uribe has done [and] put an end to armed violence.”
“Today, you can travel almost anywhere in the country, but before, the highways were frightening,” said Tobón, a Santos supporter. “Santos has always been efficient as a minister and has a lot of support in congress.”
Santos, making his first run at the presidency, was the former minister of foreign trade during César Gaviria’s administration (1990-1994) before working as the minister of finance and public credit under Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002). Under Uribe, he served as defense minister from July 2006 to May 2009.
Mockus, however, is running for Colombia’s top job for the third time after failing attempts in 1998 and 2006. He has been the mayor of Bogotá twice (1995-1998 and 2001-2004) and the president of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia from 1990-1993.
He’s also used social networks to bolster his popularity, as he has amassed about 684,000 fans on Facebook. Colombian authorities also were keeping a close eye on a Facebook group titled “I promise to kill Antanas Mockus before the 30th of May” before it recently was removed from the website.
Gabriel Silva, the country’s defense minister, said authorities also are preparing for possible attacks by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in which the terrorists would disrupt the democratic process by threatening voters.
Colombian officials plan to shut down the country’s land and maritime borders for a 24-hour period during the election, have increased security and offered rewards for information regarding possible FARC attacks.