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Colombia: Major Electoral Setback to President's Plans

Population did not back most of the 15 political and economical reforms proposed by president on Sunday
Also, an ex - Communist snatched a victory in Bogota's mayoral race. It is the first time ever in which a leftist candidate obtains country's second main post. 

Amid death threats and political assassinations - 30 candidates killed in less than one month- Colombians went to the polls on Sunday and frustrated president Alvaro Uribe's bid to reform country's politics and economics by reducing posts at the Congress and freezing workers salaries. On Saturday, rebels launched a military offensive that left 13 killed policemen, Army officers and civilians.

Mr Uribe called a referendum to seek public backing for 15 the proposals to adopt "structural reforms", like freezing public workers' salaries, reducing the number of Congressmen, changing State pensions' system, redefining the role of the Congress and others. The election was also seen as a referendum concerning the ultraconservative rule of Uribe rule, which is liked by 70 percent of the population, but according to the results Colombians rejected a new austerity program fueled by the IMF and the White House.

Despite slow ballot counting, Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez acknowledged defeat. "All Colombians have lost an opportunity to adopt structural reforms," Associated Press quoted her as saying. Almost all the ballot papers have been counted but around 2% of ballots, mainly from remote provinces, have still to be scrutinized. However, it is expected that they won't modify results.

The president has also suffered a reverse in Sunday's elections for the mayor of Bogota, with the government-backed candidate losing to a left-winger. With 92 percent of the votes counted, Luis Eduardo Garzon, the son of a cleaning lady, took 46.61 percent of the vote against 39.97 percent for the government-backed center-right candidate, Juan Lozano, the nation's official election body said. Lozano conceded defeat.

For the first time in country's history, a leftist will take what is considered nation second's major post only below presidency. The two main political parties have traditionally led Colombia: liberals and conservatives. However, they show little platform differences, as both are ideologically linked to center-right policies.

"Lucho", as Mr Garzon is known, campaigned on a platform of improving education and providing more help for the poor. His slogan - "No triumphalism, no arrogance" - was intended to set himself apart from the aggressive style of the president against rebel groups.

During the weekend, at least 13 were killed and 20 wounded, after being victims of a military offensive led by leftist rebels. Also, at least 30 candidates were killed and a dozen kidnapped in the run-up to the election, and more than 160 people withdrew their candidacy citing death threats.

Colombia has a long tradition of political assassinations, but recent escalation made analysts wonder whether 2003 might prove to be one of the bloodiest election years on record.

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