BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos is running for a second term in a May 25 election, with polls showing he will probably win but go to a second round of voting.
Here are the main candidates and their policies:
The president opened peace talks with Marxist FARC rebels and his legacy may hinge on the outcome of the negotiations.
The 17-month-old talks have produced partial agreements on two of the five points on the agenda.
Santos has promised to implement judicial reforms and to strike back at criminal gangs during his second term, as well as break down barriers to housing and education. He has also said he will continue to reduce unemployment.
Born into one of Colombia’s most powerful families, Santos, 62, is a consummate political insider. His great uncle, Eduardo Santos, served as president. A cousin was a vice president.
Before moving into politics, Santos was an editor at leading newspaper El Tiempo, once owned by his family.
Trained as an economist in the United States and the United Kingdom, Santos has published several books. These include “The Third Way,” with assistance from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and a book about the military operations against leftist rebels he helped orchestrate as defense minister.
Santos, known as a keen poker player, has been married since 1987 to Maria Clemencia Rodriguez, who was recently featured on the cover of Vogue’s Latin American edition.
The couple have three children.
Santos held several ministerial positions before taking office in 2010. As defense minister under former President Alvaro Uribe, he oversaw the military campaign that largely drove the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, into remote regions.
Other major achievements as defense minister include the 2008 rescue of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S. defense contractors held hostage by the rebels, plus the killing of the FARC’s No. 2 commander during a bombing raid in Ecuadorean territory that same year.
He also oversaw the killing of the FARC’s top leader, Alfonso Cano, in 2011, and its military commander, Mono Jojoy, in 2010.
As president, Santos has steered key initiatives through Congress, among them the fiscal rule that aims at balancing the budget in 2014. He also changed the way royalties from natural resources such oil and mining are distributed and made it possible for land seized by right-wing paramilitary groups and rebels to be returned to the rightful owners.
Santos was finance minister in the 1990s when the Andean nation faced one of its worst fiscal crises. He was also a representative to the London-based International Coffee Organization.
Zuluaga, who represents former President Alvaro Uribe’s new Democratic Center party, is against peace negotiations with Marxist FARC rebels while they are still in arms. The state should not be holding talks with terrorists, Zuluaga told Reuters.
The 54-year-old served as finance minister during the Uribe administration and steered Colombia, Latin America’s fourth-largest economy, through a period of economic growth and increased foreign investment, even as the global financial crisis battered other countries.
Zuluaga, who has spent much of the last year traveling the country drumming up support, has been married to Martha Ligia for 26 years. The couple have three children.
Zuluaga won the nomination over two other candidates, including Santos’s cousin, Francisco Santos, at the party’s convention in October.
Among policies that Zuluaga is campaigning on are a return to Uribe’s “democratic security” defense strategy, when the government stepped up attacks on guerrillas with U.S. backing. Zuluaga also supports reducing government spending, including cutting congressional seats by 20 percent.
He has called for a full eight-hour school day for public high schools instead of the half-day schedule that leaves children unsupervised at home.
He has said that while he is not against negotiating with the FARC, he opposes talks that would allow rebel leaders to enter society without serving jail time.
Before becoming finance minister, Zuluaga served as an advisor to Uribe and as a senator.
Trained as an economist in the United Kingdom, Zuluaga was mayor of his hometown in the department of Caldas, before working in the iron and steel industry.
A former mayor of Colombia’s capital Bogota, Penalosa was tipped as the second-round winner in one recent poll, though those results differed from other surveys.
Penalosa, a contender for the center-left Green Alliance party, was lauded for the transportation changes he spearheaded as mayor, expanding bike paths and beginning construction on the city’s mass-transit bus system.
The 59-year-old Duke University alumnus, born in the United States, has delivered lectures on urban sustainability at conferences around the world. He has declined to be categorized as representing the political left or right.
Penalosa has said he would continue FARC peace talks. The negotiations should “transcend” governments, Penalosa told Reuters in a recent interview.
Though he believes in the need to preserve Colombia’s environment, the white-haired Penalosa welcomes foreign investment and hopes mining and energy can contribute to 5 percent annual economic growth.
Penalosa’s alliance with Uribe during his losing bid to be Bogota’s mayor in 2011 may have damaged his credibility with left-leaning voters. He also made a failed run for mayor in 2007.
Ramirez, who also served as defense minister under ex-president Uribe, is polling in single digits, but her voters could prove king-makers in the second round.
As Uribe’s first defense minister, she helped design the security policy which over the years has severely weakened leftist guerrillas with backing from the United States.
The 59-year-old Conservative Party candidate has said that as president she would give the peace process four months to finalize, and that a second term for Santos would do “great harm” to Colombia.
As minister, Ramirez helped centralize the military’s procurement policies in an effort to curb corruption.
Her campaign has focused on job creation and the fight against graft, but has also highlighted women’s issues and said she would push for life sentences for rapists.
The left-wing Lopez, running on the Democratic Pole ticket, was appointed by Santos as interim mayor of Bogota in 2011, after a corruption scandal ousted the elected mayor.
Lopez, who says she would seek a bilateral ceasefire to accompany FARC peace negotiations, is polling in single digits, but could rally her supporters to lend their votes to a second round candidate.
The 64-year-old is the head of her party and served as an economic advisor in the administration of her uncle, former president Alfonso Lopez Michelsen.
She joined forces with leftist Aida Avella, formerly the presidential candidate for the leftist Patriotic Union, who is now running as vice-president. Avella’s party was founded in 1985 after a failed peace process brokered by then-President Belisario Betancur with the FARC. Some 5,000 members and supporters were killed in the years after its creation by right-wing paramilitary groups.
Born into a family of privilege, Lopez attended the Madeira School in Virginia, which also counts heiress Brooke Astor and actress Stockard Channing among its alumnae, and then graduated magna cum laude from Harvard in 1972.
Additional reporting by Helen Murphy; editing by Andrew Hay