His rival, former Bogota major Antanas Mockus, who has promised to boost investment in Latin America’s No 4 oil producer, is trailing by a wide margin in polls before the vote.
Colombia’s war has eased as FARC rebels have been battered and outlawed militia gangs disbanded. Violence, kidnapping and bombings have dropped off sharply. But Colombia remains the world’s No. 1 cocaine exporter, rebels are still fighting and new quasi-paramilitary gangs have emerged.
* As Uribe’s former defense minister, Santos is well-placed to continue the security policies. He promises “not one step back,” saying he will keep up military pressure on armed groups and focus on crime in the cities by strengthening police forces. He says he will not negotiate with the FARC rebels unless they first cease hostilities.
* Mockus took a tough crime stance in Bogota when he was its mayor and says he will move against the FARC and all criminal gangs, corruption, and Colombia’s drug culture with the same vigor that Uribe went after the FARC. He calls for military and social pressure on guerrillas as a way to peace. But he sees no conditions for talks with the rebels until they halt hostilities. The former university rector says education is key to changing the tolerance of cocaine culture.
Colombia, a top world coffee exporter and now a major oil producer, is climbing out of recession. But the recovery is moderate with the government expecting 3 percent growth this year. Unemployment stands at 12.4 percent with many Colombians employed in the informal sector, and it is a key campaign issue. The strength of the peso currency has also put exporters under pressure.
* Santos, who is also a former finance minister, wants to lower corporate taxes, clear barriers on investment and help drive growth by developing five areas — roads and other infrastructure, housing construction, oil and mining, agriculture and improved education. He plans to create 2.4 million jobs in the formal sector and bring unemployment to single digits by 2014. An overseas saving fund for commodities revenues would ease peso pressure. His possible finance minister, Juan Carlos Echeverry, says Santos would try to expand the base of Colombians paying taxes to generate revenue. But Santos is not in favor of complicated or prolonged tax reforms.
* Mockus’ possible finance minister, former central bank board member Salomon Kalmanovitz, says Colombia needs a review of public finances to tackle deficits but also needs tax reform to give more incentives to export industries such as textiles, which create more jobs. He says that would stop “Dutch Disease” — a currency so strong it undermines exports — with a concentration on mining and energy. He proposes a tax reform to increase the state’s income by 2 percentage points of GDP and reduce government spending. Kalmanovitz says Mockus would remove some tax benefits for the rich introduced under Uribe, and create a sovereign fund overseas to ease peso appreciation. The candidate himself says he would ask Colombians to pay more to gain more.
A close ally of the United States, Colombia is locked in a diplomatic dispute with Venezuelan leftist President Hugo Chavez, who says Colombia is part of a plot by Washington to attack his OPEC country. Bilateral trade has been slashed. Relations with Ecuador are better, but are still tense after Colombia bombed a FARC rebel camp inside Ecuador in 2008. Colombia has received more than $5 billion in mostly military aid.
* Santos says he and Chavez are like “oil and water,” and Chavez calls Santos a threat to the region. But the Colombian candidate insists the two could still work together. He accuses Chavez of trying to scuttle his presidential bid because he would block Venezuela’s attempts to spread a Cuba-style revolution into Colombia. As defense minister, Santos signed a deal to allow U.S. troops more access to Colombian bases. He says he would develop a more equal relationship with Washington rather than one based only on military aid.
* Mockus has said he would deal with Venezuela with “prudence and respect,” calling the differences a competition of ideas where Colombia can do best by showing its model works better. He was criticized by some for saying that he respected Chavez as an elected president. But he says he would not allow Chavez to push his revolutionary ideas across the frontier and says Venezuela should not meddle in Colombian affairs. Mockus says he is sympathetic to U.S. President Barack Obama but that Colombia needs a more “symmetric” relationship with Washington. He also says he would look to Latin America for unity with regional players like Brazil and for promotion of markets.
(Reporting by Bogota newsroom, Editing by Sandra Maler)