June 4, 2014 / 5:19 PM / 5 years ago

Defeated Colombian leftist calls on voters to back Santos

Colombia's President and presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos greets supporters during a campaign rally in Bogota June 3, 2014. REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Leftist politician Clara Lopez, who was defeated in the first round of Colombia’s presidential elections, has called on her supporters to back incumbent Juan Manuel Santos in the June 15 runoff vote to keep the country’s peace process on track.

Center-right Santos and right-wing Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who is skeptical of peace talks with FARC rebels, are neck-and-neck in a tight election race, according to a poll last week that put just one percentage point between them in voter intentions.

Santos, who initiated peace talks with FARC, or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, in late 2012, is backed by voters who hope the talks can end 50 years of war in which around 220,000 have been killed.

Zuluaga would continue the talks being held in Havana, but says he would impose tougher conditions. They include a FARC ceasefire, strict adherence to a timetable, and an end to the planting of land mines and forced recruitment of children.

He appeals to voters who question the FARC’s willingness to disarm and walk away from the lucrative illegal drugs trade even if a peace deal is signed. Zuluaga won the most votes in the first round of the election on May 25, coming in 3.6 percentage points ahead of Santos.

“I want to announce that I will vote for peace for Colombia led by President Juan Manuel Santos ... I invite Colombians that have supported us to follow me in this decision to guarantee the peace we need,” Lopez told reporters on Wednesday.

Lopez, who won 15.2 percent of first-round votes, said last week that the official position of her Democratic Pole party was to leave party members free to vote as they wished. On Wednesday, she said her support for Santos was a personal choice that she asked supporters to follow.

The defeated Conservative party candidate, Marta Lucia Ramirez, who won a fraction more votes than Lopez, has announced that she will back Zuluaga, though her party is divided and most of its senators have said they will support Santos.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb, additional reporting by Carlos Vargas; Writing by Peter Murphy; Editing by Peter Galloway

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