Colombia’s Santos now facing a runoff against Zuluaga

Colombia’s presidential election has entered into a runoff stage, pitting incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos against right-winger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

Zuluaga came away with the advantage in the initial round on Sunday night. He garnered 29 percent of the votes compared to Santos’ 25.5 percent, according to the Registradur√≠a Nacional del Estado Civil, Colombia’s electoral body.

In an election so focused on security, Santos has preached the virtues of mediation while Zuluaga has campaigned with the promise of creating a stronger military to end the state’s 50-year war with Marxist guerrillas.

Santos said he wants to end the conflict with Fuerza Armada Revolucionarias de Colombia rebels through negotiations taking place in Cuba. Zuluaga dismissed the talks as pandering to terrorists and suggested he would scrap them in favor of U.S.-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.

Polling stations in Colombia opened on schedule Sunday morning at 8 a.m. local time for the first round election, with more than 32 million eligible to vote, a wire service report said.

The peace process, hosted by Cuba, seeks to end a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced more than five million since it erupted in 1964. The talks have yielded agreements on three items of a five-point agenda, including agreements on rural reform, the participation of former guerrillas in politics and the battle against drug trafficking.

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 rebels bolster their ranks and boost involvement in drugs.

While Colombians are desperate to see an end to the killing, many are outraged that guerrilla leaders accused of crimes against humanity could be pardoned or hold political office, said the wire services.

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