Presidential election in Colombia still too close to call: polls

Reuters, BOGOTA

Sun, Jun 08, 2014 - Page 7

Three polls showed on Friday that Colombia’s presidential race is too close to call as opposition challenger Ivan Oscar Zuluaga seeks to unseat Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in a runoff next Sunday focused on how to end the country’s half-century guerrilla war.

A Gallup poll showed the two candidates neck-and-neck, but two other surveys gave solid leads to one or the other.

The uncertainty intensifies the suspense in the final days of a bitter election battle in which Santos began as a comfortable favorite before Zuluaga surged with the backing of still-popular former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.

Santos, 62, a US-trained economist and scion of one of Colombia’s most powerful families, has appealed to the electorate to give him another four-year mandate to complete peace negotiations he began with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels in 2012.

He is staking his reputation that the talks, being held in Cuba, will end the 50 year conflict in which 220,000 people have died.

Though Colombians are desperate for peace, Zuluaga, 55, who is also an economist, has been critical of the talks as being overly lenient on the Marxist rebels.

He appeals to voters who believe the talks could lead to little or no punishment for guerrillas’ war crimes and hand them instant political power.

Though Zuluaga has said he would continue talks, he would impose tougher conditions that could make the FARC walk away, leaving a return to the military option the only alternative.

The Gallup poll late on Thursday showed the candidates in a statistical dead heat, given the margin of error, with 48.5 percent for Zuluaga versus 47.7 percent for the president.

On Friday, a Cifras y Conceptos poll showed 43.4 percent of respondents would vote for Santos and 38.5 percent for Zuluaga, while research firm Ipsos Napoleon Franco gave 49 percent to Zuluaga and 41 percent to Santos.