BOGOTA — Colombians re-elected President Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday in a cliffhanger seen as a referendum on peace talks with FARC guerrillas.
The center-right Santos registered 50.95 per cent of the vote, compared with 45 per cent for the more conservative Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, according to the electoral board. Another 4.03 per cent were blank protest votes.
Santos, 62, who governs in a coalition with some leftist parties, has led efforts to reach a peace deal the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. In contrast, Zuluaga called for stricter conditions as a pre-requisite to any deal.
"The message sent today is also for the FARC and ELN," Santos said as cheering supporters at his headquarters chanted "Colombia wants peace!"
"This is the end. And we have to get there by standing firm. This is the end of more than 50 years of violence," said Santos, whose government also has reached out to the smaller leftist National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels seeking peace.
A fair peace?
Seeking to shoot down his rival's main slogan, Santos added: "This is not going to be peace with impunity. It will be a fair peace. We have to take the steps to ensure that it is not only fair, but lasting."
The bid to end Latin America's longest guerrilla war was the central issue of the run-off, which descended into mudslinging between the two candidates.
Zuluaga, 55, long opposed the peace talks and campaigned under the slogan "No to impunity." But he now has said that he would negotiate with the rebels under stricter conditions.
Santos, however, drew more support arguing that Colombians had to choose between "the end of the conflict, or an endless conflict."
After Santos won, Zuluaga offered his congratulations, saying "this is what democracy is about".
Words of congratulations poured in from across the region, including from the United States and neighbouring Venezuela.
"We look forward to continuing to work with President Santos and his administration to advance our bilateral relationship and to continuing to support the Colombian Government and people as they pursue a negotiated end to the conflict there," US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said "a debate was opened on whether peace should be sought, or not, and the Colombian people have clearly voted on a road to peace". — AFP