(Reuters) - Colombia’s constitutional court on Friday rejected a referendum to allow President Alvaro Uribe’s re-election, ending the staunch U.S. ally’s chances of a third conservative term in power.
Popular for his crackdown on left-wing rebels, Uribe is likely to be succeeded by a candidate who will adhere closely enough to his security and pro-investment policies that no major policy shift is likely in the next presidency.
Here are some of the candidates lining up to replace him, though several rank far down in most polls:
JUAN MANUEL SANTOS - A high-profile former defense minister and Uribe ally, Santos is chief of his U Party and often touted as the most likely politician to be anointed as the president’s successor. His ties to the successful security campaign against Marxist rebels and experience in the cabinet in the defense and finance posts could make him the favorite in terms of experience. But some analysts believe Santos, from an elite Bogota family that once controlled El Tiempo newspaper, has lacked the connection Uribe established with poorer voters. He is now lobbying to keep Uribe’s political alliance together. Polls often show him ahead of other candidates, but Santos has said he would only seek the presidency if Uribe was out of the running and others now have a jump on him in campaigning.
SERGIO FAJARDO - A youthful-looking former mayor of Medellin who studied mathematics in the United States, Fajardo is popular in that city for having cut crime. After he left the mayor’s office, Fajardo briefly joined a national radio station as a commentator, which raised his profile. He compares his campaign to the grass-roots movement of U.S. President Barack Obama when he was a candidate. The teacher-turned-politician is seen as a new face in politics and as an independent who is neither staunchly aligned with nor opposed to Uribe. Fajardo acknowledges the success of Uribe’s security campaign, but says more emphasis is needed on social and economic development. He is one of the few candidates who had said he would run whether Uribe was a candidate or not. But without a major party behind him, Fajardo may struggle to gain traction unless he forms alliances with some national parties.
RAFAEL PARDO - The Liberal Party candidate, Pardo is a former professor, senator and defense minister who has studied at Harvard University. Although he comes in on the low end in polls, he has been an ardent critic of Uribe’s failed bid for re-election. His party has flirted with an alliance with the left-wing Democratic Pole party.
NOEMI SANIN - Sanin is a businesswoman who quit her job as Colombian ambassador to Britain in order to run for the presidency for a third time. Uribe once said at a business forum that she was one of the most “competent” supporters of his policies. Although she declares herself an independent supporter of Uribe, she is trying to secure a place as the candidate for the Conservative Party, which is within the Uribe political alliance. She has crept up the polls in recent weeks as other candidates have suffered in scandals.
ANDRES FELIPE ARIAS - A former agriculture minister, Arias is a staunch defender of Uribe’s security and investment policies and wants to run as the Conservative party candidate. Dubbed by local media as “Uribito” or Little Uribe, Arias combs his hair like the president, wears the same style of glasses and speaks with the same Medellin accent. But many wonder if the young politician has the experience for the presidency. He has come under fire recently over a scandal involving state funds meant for farming development that ended up in the bank accounts of Uribe supporters. He denies any wrong-doing or mishandling of funds. He must also fight off other contenders in the internal elections of the Conservative Party.
GERMAN VARGAS LLERAS - A former senator and leading member of the Cambio Radical party once fully allied with the president, Vargas returned from studying overseas to run and had been among those mentioned by Uribe as a possible standard-bearer for his policies. But his party split over the re-election referendum and Vargas has taken an independent line from the Uribe camp — though he says he will provide continuity of the president’s policies.
GUSTAVO PETRO - A candidate from the leftist Democratic Pole party, Petro has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of Uribe, using his position as senator to bash the president on everything from his re-election bid to the government’s handling of threats from demobilized paramilitary death squads. A former guerrilla with the defunct M-19 movement, he has often clashed with government officials, some of whom have questioned his guerrilla past and commitment to politics without the gun. He has often denounced death threats against his family and harassment from a state spy agency.
Editing by Todd Eastham