Pastrana, a conservative free-market
advocate, will have the formidable
challenge of setting this nation of
36 million on a fresh course as it
enters a new millennium after decades
of tumult, tragedy and political
mistrust that people here are eager
to put behind them.
Monday, 22 June 1998
Opposition Candidate Wins in Colombia
Conservative Bests Samper-Backed Foe For the Presidency
By Serge F. Kovaleski
BOGOTA -- Opposition candidate Andres Pastrana was elected
president by a handy margin in a runoff ballot today, defeating
ruling party candidate Horacio Serpa and breaking the 12-year grip
the Liberal Party had held on the highest office in this troubled
With more than 98 percent of the vote counted, Pastrana, 44, a
former mayor of Bogota and the candidate of the Grand Alliance for
Change, had won nearly 51 percent of the vote, compared to just
over 46 percent for Serpa. He is to be inaugurated as Colombia's 37th
president on Aug. 7.
"Change has won the day," Pastrana, the wealthy son of a former
president, declared to an exultant crowd in Bogota as he proclaimed
victory. Serpa, 55, conceded defeat early this evening as Pastrana's
vote widened, saying: "I congratulate Andres Pastrana for his
election . . . and I call on all my fellow countrymen to support him
and accompany him in the difficult task he faces."
Indeed, Pastrana, a conservative free-market advocate, will have the
formidable challenge of setting this nation of 36 million on a fresh
course as it enters a new millennium after decades of tumult,
tragedy and political mistrust that people here are eager to put
Today's voting -- which was being closely watched by the United
States because of its heavy investment here in the fight against drug
trafficking -- was viewed by many Colombians as a first step toward
reviving their country's economy and repairing its image.
Voters had expressed dismay over the level of political corruption
and drug trafficking, as well as the daily violence and human rights
abuses committed by left-wing anti-government guerrillas, right-
wing paramilitary groups and the army. The stew of social and
economic ills has seemed particularly noxious under the leadership
of outgoing President Ernesto Samper.
From the outset of his term four years ago, Samper's administration
was plagued by disclosures that his campaign had received about $6
million from the Cali drug cartel. Samper, who was cleared of
wrongdoing by the Colombian Congress in 1996, was barred by law
from seeking reelection and strongly backed his party's candidate,
Several days after losing to Samper in the last presidential election,
Pastrana was the first to accuse him of accepting money from the Cali
cartel. He made public taped phone conversations in which a leading
trafficker discussed the alleged donation to Samper's campaign.
Voter preference polls conducted in the days preceding the vote
showed that a wafer-thin margin separated the two contenders, who
finished in a virtual tie in the first round of the election on May 31.
But the results of that race were skewed by the strong third-place
finish of independent candidate Noemi Sanin.
As the second-round vote approached, some voters complained that
they could find little difference between the platforms of the two
men. Both focused largely on revitalizing the economy and
negotiating a peace settlement with the country's two main guerrilla
movements to end a civil war that has raged for more than three
decades. But Pastrana, in his second consecutive bid for the
presidency, did mount an aggressive campaign against governmental
corruption, which Serpa found difficult to deflect.
Indeed, for many voters, the fact that Serpa served as Samper's
interior minister, as well as his campaign manager, and was the
president's most vigorous defender at the height of the drug-money
scandal, was enough reason to vote for Pastrana. In the first round,
Sanin had captured 26.6 percent of the vote largely on that issue,
and analysts had predicted that her supporters would provide
Pastrana with substantial additional backing.
"Without a doubt, the independent vote helped lift Pastrana to
victory," said Alfredo Rangel, a political scientist at the University of
the Andes in Bogota, adding that some Colombians who did not vote
in the first round may have come out to support Pastrana today
because the preference polls had showed the candidates to be so
In an effort to shore up Serpa's standing in the final weeks of the
campaign, political insiders said that the Liberal Party had
undertaken an extensive vote buying campaign, a common practice
here not confined to the Liberals.
Special correspondent Laura Brooks contributed to this report.
Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
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