| 2010/05/26 00:00

Green candidate eyes shock Colombia presidential election win

May 26--Self-styled outsider Antanas Mockus surges into sudden contention with 35% popular support in latest opinion poll

Green candidate eyes shock Colombia presidential election win

He was the unlikeliest of presidential hopefuls, a former maths lecturer who once mooned his students to get their attention and wore a superhero-style cape to teach civic values.

And a few weeks ago, Antanas Mockus seemed destined to be a brief footnote in Colombian electoral history, with opinion polls giving the Green party candidate 1% of the vote in elections to replace two-term president Alvaro Uribe.

But ahead of Sunday's first round Mockus has surged into contention in a turnaround that has electrified the campaign. A latest Gallup poll gives him 35% against 37% for Juan Manuel Santos, Uribe's defence minister, who began as favourite thanks to his role as the strategist behind Uribe's tough but popular security crackdown against Farc guerrillas.

"Can anyone honestly say they saw this coming?" asked Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert at the Centre for International Policy thinktank.

Mockus, a former university maths professor who served twice as mayor of Bogotá, has tapped into a yearning for a new type of politics in a South American country riven by half a century of civil conflict. With no major party backing, Mockus has styled himself an outsider who will tackle corruption, poverty and social problems. "We are not going to destroy what Uribe built," he said. "But it is not enough with just police and soldiers; what is needed is justice and social attention."

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