Polls Close in Colombian Presidential Elections

Polls have closed in the first round of a Colombia’s presidential election, which pitted Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who opposes the government’s peace talks with Marxist rebels, against President Juan Manuel Santos.

Opinion surveys published last week show Santos and Zuluaga leading three other contenders, with neither of them gaining enough votes for a first-round victory. Polling stations closed at 4 p.m. local time.

Zuluaga, who was finance minister from 2007-2010, supports many of the same economic policies as Santos, such as free trade and a “fiscal rule” to curb the government’s ability to run deficits. The election has instead become centered on negotiations with guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said Patricia Munoz, a professor of political science at Bogota’s Javeriana University.

“This is the central difference between Zuluaga and Santos,” Munoz said in May 23 phone interview. “They’ve put the peace talks at the center of the electoral agenda.”

The Santos government has held talks in Cuba with FARC negotiators since 2012, trying to agree to a peaceful solution to an insurgency that began in 1964. Zuluaga opposes any deal that would give guerrilla leaders immunity for crimes or allow them seats in Congress.

Gallup Poll

A Gallup poll published May 15 showed that Zuluaga, an ally of former President Alvaro Uribe, would win 29.3 percent in the first round, versus 29 percent for Santos.

In a second round on June 15, Zuluaga would beat Santos by 42.5 percent to 35.1 percent, according to the survey of 1,184 people, which had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Candidates must receive more than 50 percent of votes cast to win outright in the first round. Three other polls published May 15-16 produced results that were within the margin of error.

While the election became focused on the FARC talks, most Colombians don’t regard this as the nation’s most pressing problem, Munoz said.

Fewer than 5 percent of those polled regard reaching a peace agreement as the next government’s most important task, according to Gallup, making it a lower priority for voters than unemployment, health, crime, education, corruption and poverty.

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