October 25, 2015 / 11:46 PM / 2 years ago

Colombian capital veers right, elects mayor over security, transit

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombians elected center-right Enrique Penalosa as mayor of the capital Bogota on Sunday, the nation’s second most powerful position, in a vote that focused on transport chaos, security and how to put in place a peace accord with Marxist FARC rebels.

Penalosa, 61, an independent who held the position back in 1998, will replace Gustavo Petro, a controversial leftist who once fought for the now-defunct rebel group known as M-19.

The win shifts the capital away from the left for the first time in 12 years as voters complained of corruption scandals and the mishandling of the transportation system, which puts Bogatanos in traffic jams for hours every day.

“We will resolve what’s urgent in security, mobility and health, we will work to construct a dream,” Penalosa said after winning. “We will leave behind the hopelessness.”

The election, which also selected governors and regional mayors nationwide, is the first test of support for center-right President Juan Manual Santos, right-wing former President Alvaro Uribe, and the left since peace talks began three years ago.

The government and the leadership of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have been in negotiations for three years and recently vowed to reach a final deal by March.

“They will have an exceptional task in the implementation of post-conflict policies,” Interior Minister Juan Fernando Castro said this week.

The election, which took place amid a unilateral ceasefire by the FARC, was peaceful, the government said.

More than 220,000 have been killed over the 51 years of the conflict between FARC, right-wing paramilitaries and government troops.

If peace is achieved, authorities nationwide will need to implement five agenda points, including FARC participation in politics, the fight against the illegal drugs trade and agricultural reform.

Penalosa has been lauded by urban development experts for improving the city’s public transportation with rapid transit buses and expansion of bike paths during his first term. He has pledged to build a metropolitan rail system and improve security.

The Duke University alumnus, known for bicycling and walking the streets of Bogota without bodyguards, has also promised to open at least 20 new urgent healthcare clinics where patients can be seen without appointments.

Penalosa, who in the past has been backed by a diverse array of politicians from both the left and right, ran in presidential elections in 2014, coming in fifth.

Reporting by Helen Murphy and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Eric Walsh

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