Tags: Uribe | Wins | Colombia's | Elections

Uribe Wins Colombia's Elections

Monday, 27 May 2002 12:00 AM

Alvaro Uribe won a landslide victory, taking 53 percent of the vote. He has promised to step up military action against Colombia's rebel groups.

His nearest rival, Liberal Party candidate Horacio Serpa recorded 31.8 percent of the vote, while none of the other nine candidates reached double figures.

The margin of Uribe's victory surprised most observers. Opinion polls had suggested he might have to struggle to win the 50 percent plus one vote needed to avoid a second round.

In his first speech to the nation, Colombia's president-elect thanked voters for giving him a "generous and clear mandate."

He also thanked Colombians for turning out to vote "in the midst of difficult times."

The turnout rate in the elections was estimated at 46.3 percent, higher than in the country's last presidential elections in 1998.

The relatively high turnout came despite calls for an electoral boycott by the country's largest rebel force, the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

A giant security operation involving more than 200,000 soldiers and police officers managed to limit the effect of sporadic FARC attacks on polling booths and regional infrastructure.

"The international community should note that Colombia has expressed its desire to recover order and its intention to defeat terrorism," Uribe said.

Uribe's success reflects ordinary Colombians' frustration with the failure of the country's traditional political parties to end Colombia's 38-year-old civil war.

The independent candidate campaigned on a platform of increased military action against Colombia's rebel groups and pledged to be the country's "lead soldier."

He has promised to double the size of the country's armed forces and to seek increased aid from the United States.

The 49-year-old lawyer, who has studied and taught at Harvard and Oxford Universities, said his first action Monday would be to ask the international community to mediate between his government and rebel groups.

Uribe made it clear, however, that he will only begin dialogue with the rebels once they have made a firm commitment to peace.

During the election campaign, Serpa, Uribe's main opponent, had characterized the independent candidate as a warmonger who would plunge Colombia into further instability.

While conceding defeat to Uribe Sunday night, Serpa again warned that "the future of Colombia cannot be more war" and promised to dedicate himself to promoting reconciliation.

Uribe's critics also accuse him of having authoritarian tendencies and of promoting military action against the rebels in order to avenge the FARC's murder of his father in a botched kidnapping attempt in 1996.

In his speech to the nation, Uribe promised to respect human rights and the democratic process during his campaign against the guerrillas.

He said his government would also focus on promoting education and creating jobs, which he said would be crucial factors in reducing violence in Colombia in the long term.

The president-elect's final words were, however, a reminder that his administration's main focus will be defeating the rebels.

"I was born on a mountain and I inherited the firmness of its rocks," Uribe said.

President Andres Pastrana cast the first vote in the elections Sunday morning before appealing to Colombians to exercise their democratic right to vote.

"While the guerrillas keep using bullets, explosives, kidnappings and massacres against the Colombian people, we will use the most important weapon we have, which is democracy," Pastrana said.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Alvaro Uribe won a landslide victory, taking 53 percent of the vote. He has promised to step up military action against Colombia's rebel groups. His nearest rival, Liberal Party candidate Horacio Serpa recorded 31.8 percent of the vote, while none of the other nine...
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2002-00-27
Monday, 27 May 2002 12:00 AM
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