Event Report: Elections in Latin America (Colombia)

Feb. 3, 2014, 4:15 p.m.

The following report is based off of a talk hosted by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, entitled "Elections in Latin America."


This year, the Republic of Colombia will hold parliamentary elections on March 9 and a presidential election on May 25. Thus far, the most prominent political issue has been the ongoing peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).


After almost 50 years of conflict, the government of Colombia began to engage FARC diplomatically in 2010 and organized talks in Cuba toward a mutual peace agreement that began in 2012. Juan Manuel SANTOS, incumbent president and leader of the Social Party of National Unity, is now running for reelection on a platform of continuing and concluding the talks. SANTOS argues that peace with FARC will provide the stability needed to further pursue economic growth and poverty alleviation. SANTOS’s main opponent, Oscar Ivan ZULUAGA, represents a new center-right party founded in 2012 by former President URIBE. Both ZULUAGA and URIBE claim that the concessions will embolden FARC guerrillas to commit acts of violence and that FARC’s negotiated political participation will radicalize Colombian politics, undermining the country’s hard-earned stability.


A recent opinion poll conducted by Ipsos Napoleon Franco found that if the election were held today, SANTOS would receive 25% of the vote and ZULUAGA would receive 8%, but 27% would intentionally leave the ballot blank and a further 23% are undecided. While these numbers clearly favor SANTOS, they also reveal a widespread lack of enthusiasm for the candidates in general.


Mauricio VARGAS, a columnist for El Tiempo in Colombia, spoke about this lack of enthusiasm at the Wilson Center for International Scholars on 30 January, claiming that “something is missing” in Colombian politics for such a large number of potential voters to reject all of their options. VARGAS believes that this rejection stems from the overwhelming focus on security issues. VARGAS believes that the debate over the peace process has overshadowed other issues and resulted in a lack of real proposals on the socioeconomic issues that Colombians care about. He cited a recent study that found that more Colombians are concerned with economic issues than with the peace talks, and that unemployment and low quality healthcare are their most pressing concerns.


While polls show that many Colombians, especially the rising middle class, are lukewarm about giving SANTOS another four years in office, he will most likely win by default. Ultimately, SANTOS represents steady progress to many Colombians, and they will be very hesitant to change course unless a new candidate comes along who can reinvigorate a platform of economic progress. So long as ZULUAGA keeps the emphasis on the peace process, SANTOS will remain in a strong position going into the election.


(Image Credit: colombiareports.co)

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