Tue, May 30, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Uribe wins re-election in Bogota

LANDSLIDE Conservative President Alvaro Uribe put an end to a string of leftist triumphs in South America by winning 62 percent of the vote to secure a second term in Colombia

AP , BOGOTA

Supporters of re-elected Colombian President Alvaro Uribe celebrate his victory in the country's election in Bogota on Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

Strengthened by his landslide re-election, conservative President Alvaro Uribe must now fulfill a pledge to wrest control of Colombia from leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers, while dispelling concerns he may abuse his powerful new mandate.

In what was Colombia's least violent election in more than a decade, Uribe on Sunday won a second term with 62 percent of votes -- 40 percentage points more than his closest rival, Senator Carlos Gaviria, of the leftist Alternative Democratic Pole party.

The victory marked the first re-election by a Colombian incumbent in more than a century, after Congress last year approved a constitutional amendment allowing Washington's staunchest ally in Latin America to seek a second term.

The win by Uribe, 53, also ends a series of election triumphs by leftist candidates in South America, which now has left-leaning governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

Critics of Uribe say the president has showed a disinterest in social programs in a country with rampant poverty and fear his re-election would exacerbate his alleged autocratic tendencies. But Colombians overwhelmingly backed Uribe because a reduced levels of crime and violence following his crack down on armed groups, and a surge of economic growth.

Sunday's election also saw the rise of the leftist Gaviria who received 22 percent of the votes, with more than 99 percent of the ballots counted. In third place was Horacio Serpa, of the centrist Liberal Party, with just below 12 percent.

Gaviria's strong showing -- a record for the left in this decidedly conservative country -- confirms the growing strength of the democratic left, which quadrupled its performance from the previous election.

With a brutal campaign behind him, the key challenges facing the 53-year old leader, who begins his second term on Aug. 7, will be those that have dominated daily life in this South American country for decades: poverty, civil war and drug trafficking. Colombia is the world's largest cocaine producer and Uribe is a key US ally in the war on drugs.

Speaking at a downtown hotel in Bogota late on Sunday, the bespectacled, earnest leader acknowledged the difficulties of the road ahead.

"All Colombians must improve and I must improve," he told supporters, some of them wearing blue hats with the victorious campaign slogan "Adelante Presidente" -- or "Forge Ahead, Mr President."

"We must work for our fatherland to achieve the enduring goodness our people and future generations of Colombians deserve," he said.

He can likely count on a supportive Congress after legislative elections in March gave pro-Uribe parties control of 70 of the Senate's 102 seats.

A friendly Congress will be crucial for what many predict will be a necessary round of belt-tightening following a near doubling of defense spending and 25 percent increase in troop strength during Uribe's first presidency.

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