The Colombian presidential election of 2010 took place under a two-round system, with an initial vote held on May 30 and a second poll held three weeks later on June 20.  A referendum proposal that would have allowed incumbent President Álvaro Uribe the opportunity to run for a third term was rejected by the Constitutional Court of Colombia in a 7--2 ruling on February 26, 2010. Because no candidate received a majority (more than one-half) of the votes cast in the May 30 poll, the candidates with the two highest vote totals, Juan Manuel Santos and Antanas Mockus, competed in a runoff election on June 20, which led to the election of Juan Manuel Santos as the next Colombian President.
Santos achieved a landslide victory, with 69 per cent of the votes. Mockus got 27.51 per cent of votes. This was the largest margin of victory for a president in the democratic period of Colombia's history. Santos won 32 of the country's 33 electoral districts. His allies have an overwhelming majority in the Colombian Congress. Santos vowed to continue his predecessor's hardline stance against the country's Marxist rebels.
During the pre-Colombian period, the area now known as Colombia was inhabited by indigenous societies situated at different stages of socio-economic development, ranging from hunters and nomadic farmers to the highly structured Chibchas, who are considered to be one of the most developed indigenous groups in South America.
Santa Marta was the first permanent Spanish settlement founded in 1525. Santa Fe de Bogota was founded in 1538 and, in 1717, became the capital of the Viceroyalty of New Granada, which included what are now Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama. Bogota was one of three principal administrative centers of the Spanish possessions in the New World.
On July 20, 1810, the citizens of Bogota created the first representative council to defy Spanish authority. Full independence was proclaimed in 1813, and in 1819 the Republic of Greater Colombia was formed to include all the territory of the former Viceroyalty (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama). Simon Bolivar was elected its first president with Francisco de Paula Santander as vice president. Conflicts between followers of Bolivar and Santander led to the formation of two political parties that have since dominated Colombian politics. Bolivar's supporters, who later formed the nucleus of the Conservative Party, sought strong centralized government, alliance with the Roman Catholic Church and a limited franchise. Santander's followers, forerunners of the Liberals, wanted a decentralized government, state control over education and other civil matters, and a broader suffrage.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, each party held the presidency for roughly equal periods of time. Colombia maintained a tradition of civilian government and regular, free, elections. Notwithstanding the country's commitment to democratic institutions, Colombia's history also has been characterized by widespread, violent conflict. Two civil wars resulted from bitter rivalry between the Conservative and Liberal parties: The War of a Thousand Days (1899-1903) claimed an estimated 100,000 lives and La Violencia (the Violence) (1946-1957) claimed about 300,000 lives.
A new constitution in 1991 brought about major reforms to Colombia's political institutions. While the new constitution preserved a presidential, three-branch system of government, it created new institutions such as the Inspector General, a Human Rights Ombudsman, a Constitutional Court and a Superior Judicial Council. The new constitution also reestablished the position of Vice President. Other significant constitutional reforms provide for civil divorce, dual nationality and the establishment of a legal mechanism ("Tutela") that allows individuals to appeal government decisions affecting their constitutional rights. The constitution also authorized the introduction of an accusatory system of criminal justice that is gradually being instituted throughout the country, replacing the previous written inquisitorial system. A constitutional amendment approved in 2005 allows the president to hold office for two consecutive 4-year terms.
The administration of Andres Pastrana (1998-2002), a Conservative, faced increased countrywide attacks by the FARC and ELN, widespread drug production and the expansion of paramilitary groups. The Pastrana administration unveiled its "Plan Colombia" in 1999 as a strategy to deal with these longstanding problems, and sought support from the international community. Plan Colombia is a comprehensive program to combat narco-terrorism; spur economic recovery; strengthen democratic institutions and respect for human rights; and provide humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons.
Alvaro Uribe, an independent, was elected president in May 2002 on a platform to restore security to the country. Among his promises was to continue to pursue the broad goals of Plan Colombia within the framework of a long-term security strategy. In the fall of 2002, Uribe released a national security strategy that employed political, economic and military means to weaken all illegal narco-terrorist groups. The Uribe government offered to negotiate a peace agreement with these groups with the condition that they agree to a unilateral cease fire and to end drug trafficking and kidnapping.
In December 2003, the Colombian United Self-Defense Forces (AUC) paramilitary group entered into a peace agreement with the government that has led to the collective demobilization of over 31,000 AUC members. In addition, nearly 14,000 members of the FARC, AUC, ELN, and other illegal armed groups have individually surrendered their arms. In July 2005, President Uribe signed the Justice and Peace Law, which provides reduced punishments for the demobilized if they renounce violence and return illegal assets, which are to provide reparations to victims.
As a result of the government's military and police operations, the strength of the FARC has been reduced in all urban areas and mostly limited to the most remote areas of the country. Since 2000, the FARC has not carried out large-scale multi-front attacks, although it has mounted some operations that indicate it has not yet been broken.
In 2004, the Uribe government established, for the first time in recent Colombian history, a government presence in all of the country's 1,099 municipalities (county seats). Attacks conducted by illegally armed groups against rural towns decreased by 91% from 2002 to 2005. Between 2002 and 2007, Colombia saw a decrease in homicides by 37%, kidnappings by 78%, terrorist attacks by 63%, and attacks on the country's infrastructure by 60%.
Although much attention has been focused on the security aspects of Colombia's situation, the Uribe government also is making significant efforts on issues such as expanding international trade, supporting alternate means of development, reforming Colombia's judicial system, and reducing poverty.
President Uribe was reelected with 62% of the vote in May 2006. In congressional elections in March 2006, the three leading pro-Uribe parties (National Unity, Conservative Party, and Radical Change) won clear majorities in both houses of Congress. In late 2006, the Supreme Court began investigations and ordered the arrest of some members of Congress for actions on behalf of paramilitary groups. Those investigations continue into 2008.
In January 2007, Colombian leaders presented a new strategy to consolidate and build a progressive program under Plan Colombia, called the "Strategy to Strengthen Democracy and Social Development." The new strategy continues successful Plan Colombia programs while increasing state presence by improving access to social services, and supporting economic development through sustainable growth and trade.