Colombians vote for president

May 26, 2014 - 6:32:03 am

BOGOTA: Colombians voted for a president yesterday in the tightest election in two decades and one that may determine whether the country continues peace talks with leftist guerrillas or steps up its battlefield offensive against them to end a 50-year war.

The vote has largely become a plebiscite on President Juan Manuel Santos’ strategy of negotiating disarmament of Marxist FARC rebels to end bloodshed that has killed some 200,000.

Right-winger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga dismissed the talks as pandering to terrorists and suggested he would scrap them in favour of US-backed military campaigns similar to those led by his mentor, former President Alvaro Uribe.

Santos and Zuluaga are polling neck-and-neck following a race marred by accusations of electronic espionage and drug-linked campaign financing. Neither is seen winning enough votes to avoid a June 15 run-off.

“I voted for the president and for peace,” said Fernando Rueda, a 65-year-old lawyer. “We have had 50 years with the guerrillas. They have to end the war and the president is on the path to achieve that.”

Polls were to close at 4pm local time, with results expected late in the evening.

Uribe fell out with Santos, 62, when the president launched peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) instead of sticking to the eight-year strategy of forcing the group’s surrender on the battlefield.

Santos appeals to Colombians who hope the guerrillas will lay down arms after seeing top leaders killed and their numbers halved to about 8,000 fighters.

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.

But Zuluaga has galvanized conservative Colombians who believe the talks will fail like three similar attempts since the 1980s, including a 1999 peace deal that let the FARC bolster its ranks and boost involvement in drugs.

Three other candidates also on the ballot have mostly polled in single digits. Reuters

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