May 20, 2010 / 3:55 AM / 10 years ago

Colombian top candidates tied for May 30 vote

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombian front-running presidential candidates Juan Manuel Santos and Antanas Mockus remain tied in a poll released on Wednesday before the May 30 election, but Mockus holds the edge in a likely June runoff.

Presidential candidate for the "U" Party Juan Manuel Santos (L) speaks during a TV debate in Bogota May 18, 2010. REUTERS/Jose Miguel Gomez

Santos, former defense minister for President Alvaro Uribe, would get 37.5 percent of intended votes in the first round, with Mockus, a former Bogota mayor, getting 35.4 percent, the Invamer-Gallup poll said.

In a second round, Mockus would win with 48.5 percent of votes against Santos’ 43 percent.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote on May 30, the two top contenders will square off in a June 20 runoff to decide who succeeds the popular Uribe, a U.S. ally who is stepping down after two terms battling rebels and reducing violence from the country’s war. Four other major candidates trail far behind.

The most recent poll was carried out with 1,200 eligible voters from Saturday to Monday and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Mockus, whose Green Party has few seats in Congress, had surged from single digits in opinion polls in April to challenge Santos with a message of clean government. The son of Lithuanian immigrants, he appealed to voters weary of scandals in Uribe’s second term.

Polls now show the candidates neck and neck after Santos, scion of a wealthy Bogota family, revamped his campaign and Mockus suffered from slip-ups in debates with his often meandering, philosophical speaking style, analysts say.

Once seen as a failing state, Colombia saw huge security improvements under Uribe, who sent troops to drive back Marxist guerrillas and cocaine-trafficking paramilitary gangs. Violence has dropped and foreign investment has surged. First elected in 2002 and re-elected four years later, Uribe was barred by a constitutional court from seeking a third term.

Both leading candidates promise continuity with Uribe’s tough security line and pro-business policies. But they vow to try to increase tax revenues to tackle fiscal deficits and address jobs, healthcare and education, issues now seen by Colombians as more critical than rebel violence.

Uribe leaves office in August. His popularity hovers above 70 percent, but his second term was marred by scandals over state security agents accused of illegally wiretapping his opponents, and soldiers involved in human rights abuses.

Reporting by Patrick Markey in Bogota; Editing by Peter Cooney

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