Just like Superman, he swore to use his powers to vanquish wrong-doing and benefit humanity. Yet when Antanas Mockus was elected mayor of Colombia’s crime-ridden capital, Bogota, he took the comparison literally – appearing in a spandex suit and cloak with his chest emblazoned with a giant “S” for Supercitizen.
His intention, he said, was to inspire the city’s residents to fight to improve their lives and environment. And, much like Ken Livingstone with his newts and Boris Johnson with his bicycling, bumbling ways, Mr Mockus has proved that eccentricity need not be a barrier to the higher echelons of politics.
The former maths professor, 58, is now running for president – and has emerged as the front-running candidate ahead of the first round of the Columbian election on May 30.
In an electoral campaign that has electrified the South American nation, last week he surged in the polls to overtake his staider rivals – most notably the former defence minister, Juan Manuel Santos, who had been viewed as the shoo-in heir to Alvaro Uribe, the pro-Washington incumbent who is about to step down. “Prepare for success, but prepare for the problems,” Mr Mockus told an election rally on Friday afternoon.
While both Mr Uribe and Mr Santos have earned credit for standing up to the country’s Marxist rebel movements, drug producers and kidnap gangs, they have also been tarred by alleged human rights abuses, links between lawmakers and right-wing militia gangs, and illegal wiretaps of opposition leaders.
Mr Mockus, who is running for the Colombian Green Party, has capitalised on growing disquiet about some of Mr Uribe’s tactics, promising to clean up the country’s notoriously dirty politics and provide a refreshing, if unorthodox, break from the political cliques that have prevailed for decades.