President’s re-election boosts peace-talk hopes in Colombia

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Colombia’s president, Juan Manuel Santos, won a second term on Sunday with an election victory that allows him to continue peace talks with Marxist guerrillas to end a half-century war.

Santos beat rightwing challenger Óscar Iván Zuluaga with about 50.8% of the vote after a bitter campaign that challenged voters to decide between the incumbent’s pursuit of negotiated peace or a likely escalation of combat under Zuluaga.

Zuluaga trailed with about 45.1% of support. Votes had been counted from more than 98% of polling stations, meaning Santos’s victory was secure.

His re-election comes as a relief to his backers as well as traditional rivals from the left who backed the peace talks and feared they could have been jettisoned by Zuluaga in favour of trying to end the long conflict on the battlefield.

Santos, who hails from one of the country’s most influential families, opened talks with rebel leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) in late 2012 to end a conflict that has killed over 200,000 people and forced millions more from their homes. He made peace hopes a key selling point throughout the campaign.

Although they have shown more progress than previous failed efforts, the peace talks in Cuba have been divisive. Zuluaga supporters fear a peace deal could hand the Farc leaders political power without punishment for their crimes.

Santos sought to capitalise on support for his peace effort this week by revealing preliminary talks had begun with the second biggest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

A victory for Zuluaga, 55, could have spelled the end of the peace process if the Farc rejected the tougher conditions he vowed to impose to keep talks going.

Colombia’s financial market were not rattled by the campaign because both candidates are considered business friendly. Colombia’s economy is one of the fastest growing in Latin America.

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