The election of conservative challenger Andres Pastrana ended the ruling Liberal Party's 12-year lock on the presidency and is likely to improve the image of a country battered by a drug corruption scandal.
"My foreign policy will aim to restore Colombians' lost dignity, to regain the respect that our people deserve in the international community so that once again we can be proud to pronounce Colombia's name in all corners of the world," Pastrana said Sunday in his victory speech.With 98 percent of the vote counted in Sunday's runoff election, the 44-year-old former Bogota mayor, in his second straight bid for Colombia's highest office, had won 50.4 percent versus 46.5 percent for the Liberals' Horacio Serpa.
Serpa served as interior minister under outgoing President Ernesto Samper, who was accused of accepting $6 million from the Cali drug cartel. The scandal crippled Samper's four-year tenure and likely doomed Serpa's presidential hopes.
Still, the Liberal candidate's populist rhetoric and lower middle-class upbringing helped win the favor of millions of Colombians who viewed Pastrana, son of the late President Misael Pastrana, as the candidate of the rich.
On Sunday, Pastrana promised to better the lot of 18 million Colombians who live in poverty.
"I'm going to be the president of the poor," he said. "I don't want any more hunger in Colombia."
Firecrackers exploded outside the hall where Pastrana declared victory. People danced in the streets, waved flags, honked horns and shouted "Andres! Andres!"
Voter turnout was 54 percent, up from 43 percent in 1994.
"Finally, God has remembered Colombia," said a 52-year-old merchant in Bogota.