* Runoff between Santos and Mockus seen likely
* Front-runners vow continuity of Uribe's policies
* Colombians concerned over jobs, healthcare, education
By Patrick Markey
BOGOTA, May 30 Colombians vote on Sunday for a
successor to President Alvaro Uribe in an election pitting a
veteran government minister from an elite family against an
eccentric former mayor who vows to stamp out corruption.
The front-runners, former Defense Minister Juan Manuel
Santos and former Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus, both promise to
continue Uribe's security policies, but polls show neither can
win the more than 50 percent of votes needed to avoid a June
A key U.S. ally in the region, Uribe steps down still
popular after two terms dominated by his war against
drug-trafficking rebels, and his pro-business approach that
increased foreign investment five-fold since 2002. Uribe was
barred by a constitutional court from seeking a third term.
Santos, one of Uribe's staunchest supporters, is tied in
most polls with Mockus, the son of Lithuanian immigrants and a
former university professor who surged in support with a
campaign against graft and "politics as usual." The two are
also running close in opinion polls for the June 20 runoff.
The four other main candidates are far behind.
Mockus won support from young and urban voters by promising
clean government and more education. Santos proved stronger in
rural areas once battered by the country's long war.
"We believe we can really change the way we do politics,"
Mockus told supporters on Saturday.
For more on the elections, click on [ID:nCOLOMBIA]
Their country safer, most Colombians are now more concerned
with jobs, education and healthcare than violence, and many are
weary of the scandals that marred Uribe's second term.
The next leader inherits better security and investment but
also a slow economic recovery, a wide deficit, double-digit
unemployment and a trade dispute with Venezuela, where
socialist President Hugo Chavez is riled over U.S. influence.
"Uribe has given us back security, now we can concentrate
on creating jobs, jobs and more jobs," Santos said.
Latin America's No. 4 oil producer and a top coal and
coffee exporter, Colombia is enjoying a boom in energy and
mining investment, but the next president must manage an influx
of commodity dollars that will pressure the peso COP=RR.
Both front-runners say they will keep pro-market economic
policies applauded by investors, and analysts see little
long-term impact on the peso or local TES bonds whoever wins.
TURNAROUND UNDER URIBE
Once mired in fighting among paramilitaries, rebels and
cocaine lords, Colombia enjoyed a dramatic turnaround under
Uribe, whose own father was killed by FARC guerrillas.
Backed by billions of dollars in U.S. aid, Uribe sent
troops to reclaim areas once under the control of armed groups,
and kidnappings, bombings and massacres dropped sharply.
Poor infrastructure and a weak state presence still affect
rural areas, where conflict forces peasants off their land and
drug routes make Colombia the world's No. 1 cocaine exporter.
Many Colombians thank Uribe for making towns and highways
safer, but his last four years were marked by scandals over
corruption, investigations into soldiers killing citizens and
charges state agents illegally wiretapped his opponents.
Alliances will be key in a second round. As head of Uribe's
U Party, Santos will seek out the Conservative and Cambio
Radical parties. Mockus, whose Green Party has few seats in
Congress, claims the moderate, middle ground.
"There will be fierce competition for the backers of the
other candidates," said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin
America program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.
Santos would count on strong backing in the Congress where
his party is the largest political bloc, but Mockus could
struggle to push through ambitious reforms with only a few
seats in the legislature.
"Markets could experience a moderate sell-off in case
Mockus is elected president on concerns over governability,"
Alberto Ramos at Goldman Sachs said in a report.
Santos, a U.S.- and British-educated economist whose great-
uncle was president, points to his experience as finance, trade
and defense minister. But some voters associate the former
newspaper editor him with government scandals.
Mockus, whose beard gives him the air of a preacher, once
dropped his pants as a university director to get the attention
of unruly students. As mayor, he donned a superhero suit to
inspire residents to follow civic rules.
The French-educated mathematician and philosopher was
praised for his fiscal discipline and tough line on crime when
he helped turn around once-chaotic Bogota. But critics say his
meandering style and lack of national experience show he is not
the decisive leader a country like Colombia needs.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)