BOGOTA, Colombia — Former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos achieved a commanding lead in Colombia's presidential elections Sunday -- making it tough for his challenger to succeed, political analysts say.
Given the vote Sunday, "it appears that Santos has a lock on a second-round victory,'' said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America Program at the Washington, D.C.-based Wilson Center. "This is a far cry from the neck-and-neck that polls had predicted,'' Arnson said.
Santos received 46.5 percent of votes to 21.5 percent for former Bogotá Mayor Antanas Mockus, according to official returns. The results mean the two top finishers will face-off in a runoff election on June 20.
Santos gave President Alvaro Uribe some of the credit for his victory, saying that Colombians voted to defend the president's successes.
"Thank God, thank you Colombia,'' Santos told hundreds of cheering supporters gathered at a Bogotá hotel. ``Today Colombia has won, today its democracy has won.''
Despite the 25-point gap over Santos, Mockus was upbeat about the results.
"Today, we reached a goal that a few weeks ago seemed impossible: to make it to the second round,'' Mockus told followers who chanted slogans and waved sunflowers -- one of the campaign's symbols -- at a downtown convention center. ``With this second round, we have the opportunity to advance toward a profound cultural transformation that can free us from violence.''
Santos, who as defense minister oversaw some of the most paralyzing blows against leftist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, campaigned on continuing Uribe's successful ``democratic security'' policies and on bringing ``democratic prosperity'' to Colombians.
Mockus, recognized for his uncompromising honesty and zero tolerance for corruption, also promised to continue tough security policies but said he would focus on boosting ``democratic legality.''
Uribe, a staunch ally of the United States, is credited with routing the FARC from major urban centers and making Colombia attractive to foreign investment, bringing the country back from the brink of becoming a failed state.
``The results [of the election] show that Colombians fear losing all that has been gained with democratic security,'' said Jaime Duarte, a professor of governance at the Externado University in Bogotá.
The results surprised pundits and pollsters, who had predicted a tie between Santos, of the Unity Party and Mockus of the Green Party in the first round among a field of nine candidates.
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