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BOGOTA, Colombia — Juan Manuel Santos will face Antanas Mockus in a presidential runoff on June 20 but many pundits view the contest as pointless, expensive and perhaps even dangerous.
In a six-candidate field, Santos won 46.5 percent of the ballots in Sunday’s first round vote compared to just 21.5 percent for Mockus. However, Santos is not yet Colombia’s president-elect because he came up just short of the 50 percent plus one vote required for outright victory.
First-round losers sometimes stage comebacks. Andres Pastrana lost to Horacio Serpa in Colombia’s 1998 first-round vote but prevailed in the runoff. Peruvian President Alan Garcia pulled off the same trick in 2006.
But given the lopsided vote tally on Sunday hardly anyone thinks Mockus, the opposition Green Party candidate, stands a chance against Santos, a former defense minister who is backed by outgoing President Alvaro Uribe as well Colombia’s biggest political parties.
Even if Mockus, a former Bogota mayor and the son of Lithuanian immigrants, doubles his 3.1 million vote tally from Round One, he would still lose.
Runoffs are all about forming alliances with rival political parties anxious to climb aboard the victory train. The Liberal and Conservative parties, which fielded their own losing candidates on Sunday but maintain formidable get-out-the-vote machinery, have thrown their weight behind Santos.
But Mockus has refused to court other parties because it smacks of old-style politics in which cabinet posts and other jobs are doled out in exchange for support.
The Mockus’s campaign is largely based on the rejection politics-as-usual. So instead, Mockus will focus on independents and try to convince more people to vote since only about half of all eligible voters cast ballots in the first round.
That, however, seems an unlikely path towards victory.
According to Carlos Ariel Sanchez, who heads Colombia’s National Registry which helps organize elections, the runoff will cost about $45 million — money that critics argue would be better spent on roads, schools and hospitals.
Political analyst Alfredo Rangel points out that in Argentina and Costa Rica, which also employ a two-round system, the threshold for outright victory in the first round is 40 percent, a number that Santos surpassed. Santos scored “a clear and forceful victory that shows what Colombians want – and what they don’t want,” Rangel wrote in Semana newsmagazine.
Another pro-Santos columnist, Fernando Londono, suggests in today’s El Tiempo that a runoff would be “dangerous” — alluding to the possibility that FARC guerrillas would try to sabotage the election.
In other words, the pro-Santos crowd wants Mockus to surrender by dropping out. But that makes little sense because, under Colombia’s Constitution, the third-place candidate would be required to fill Mockus’ slot.
What’s more, if the Green Party aspires to be more than just a one-election wonder and to go forward promoting a culture of clean government that Colombia so badly needs, it behooves Mockus and his followers put together a coherent, energetic campaign down the home stretch.
They didn’t always do that in the days leading up to the first round of balloting, as photographer Stephen Ferry wryly notes in his campaign-trail blog.
“A series of totally incomprehensible performances in recent debates, and his nerdy love of arcane statistics, certainly did not help Mockus’ cause,” Ferry writes. “Whether his rendition of 'Happy Birthday' in Lithuanian on a popular talk show helped or hurt him is anyone’s guess.”