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Bogota, 27 October 2015: Voters in Colombia’s two largest cities have returned peace candidates in last Sunday’s local and regional elections. In Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa, a previous mayor, beat, in a closely fought contest, Rafael Pardo. In Medellin, Colombia’s second-largest city, Juan Carlos Velez, an ally of the hawkish former president Alvaro Uribe, who opposes peace talks with the country’s guerrilla movement, had been favoured to win. But he was edged out 36 to 34 per cent by centrist Federico Gutierrez.
Sunday’s elections were the Colombia’s first regional and local ballots since President Juan Manuel Santos started peace talks with the revolutionary FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels in Havanna, Cuba. The government hopes to sign a peace agreement early next year to end South America’s oldest guerrilla war. Prior to the election, the Colombian President urged Colombians to vote, saying that the local and regional elected officials would have to implement the peace deal. "If we manage to end the armed conflict in the coming months, they will be held responsible for putting into practice the measures that will allow us a successful transition towards peace," the President added.
The country’s most closely watched contest was the mayoral election in the capital city Bogota. Enrique Peñalosa, who stood as an independent, was previously mayor of Bogota between 1998 and 2001. During that term, he launched the city’s rapid-bus transportation system TransMilenio and 250 kilometers of cycle lanes. He now promises to enhance the city’s shared public spaces such as parks and libraries as well as discourage the use of private cars. He also said Uber drivers should operate on an equal footing with traditional taxis, who require a license, which in a secondary market can be worth some US$30,000.
Enrique Peñalosa studied economics at Duke University, North Carolina, and served as a congressman and economics minister before being first elected Mayor of Bogota in 1998. In addition to promoting public transport over private car use, he encouraged the use of public libraries and opened up schools to children from poorer neighbourhoods. He will take over from the current mayor on 1 January 2016.
Federico Gutierrez, Medellin’s mayor-elect, is a civil engineer by profession. He served as a city councillor from 2003 to 2011, when he unsuccessfully stood for mayor. His unexpected victory, last Sunday, will give the peace process a significant boost.
Colombians elected 32 provincial governors and legislative bodies, more than 1,100 mayors and municipal councils and other local leadership posts.