Santos gains key support for runoff
Leftist candidate López, Bogotá mayor Petro and majority of Conservatives back president
BOGOTÁ — Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos seemed yesterday to have secured the support of former candidate Clara López — the leftist former Bogotá mayor who was eliminated in the country’s presidential election on Sunday — although her party, the Polo Democrático, has yet to announce who it will back ahead of a June runoff vote.
López appeared next to Santos at the launching event for the National Council for Peace, a body through which the president hopes to engage civilians in the peace process with FARC rebels, which began 18 months ago in Havana. Leftist Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro — a former guerrilla himself — also participated in the event and shook hands with the president.
Santos came in in second place on Sunday, taking 25.7 percent of the vote, while the winner Oscar Iván Zuluaga — the candidate of former president Álvaro Uribe’s party — took 29.3 percent. The two will compete in a second round of voting scheduled to take place on June 15.
Alliances will be key in determining who wins and Santos and Zuluaga are going all out in their efforts to woe the three candidates that were eliminated in the first round of voting.
Zuluaga was quick to try to convince Conservative Marta Lucía Ramírez to support him in his victory speech on Sunday, while Santos praised the “important proposals” made by López and Green Party candidate Enrique Peñalosa during the campaign.
López’s leftist Polo Democrático party has yet to make a formal announcement regarding who it will back — with several lawmakers calling for their followers to vote blank — but her presence at Santos’ event yesterday did more than enough to show that she is on the president’s side.
Although López repeatedly criticized the liberal economic model implemented by Santos during the campaign — and has refused to explicitly say who she will back since her elimination on Sunday — she has insisted that “peace is essential for Colombians” — a thinly-veiled hint of her support for the president.
Zuluaga is a staunch critic of the peace process in Havana and, after winning the election on Sunday, announced he would suspend peace talks unless the FARC agree to a permanent and unilateral cease-fire. Uribe, his mentor, is the talks’ biggest and loudest opponent.
Conservatives pick sides
But López’s implicit show of support was just one of the pieces of good news that Santos received yesterday.
The president also secured the backing of 42 out of the 60 lawmakers in the Conservative Party caucus, even after the party’s presidential candidate Ramírez expressed her “afinity to Zuluaga.”
Some analysts said yesterday that their support could be enough to tilt the run-off in the president’s favour.
Meanwhile, Peñalosa — who came in in a disappointing fifth place last Sunday with just over eight percent of the vote — has remained silent regarding his choice for the run-off.
The Green Party denied, however, that it had already decided against Zuluaga and said it was still considering its decision.
Despite Zuluaga’s efforts, the June 15 vote has been turned into a referendum on the peace process, which could benefit Santos.
The majority of Colombians favour the negotiations although more than 60 percent don’t believe that a peace deal will be reached.
Talks ‘lost credibility’
Former Colombian President Andrés Pastrana — who rallied for Ramírez ahead of the first round — said yesterday that the peace process in Havana has “lost credibility” and that he will watch the run-off “from the benches.”
The negotiations “have overwhelmed Colombians’ patience and have lost credibility,” he said yesterday, according to the website of Semana magazine. The peace process “has outlasted its deadline and has become mixed up with the electoral process,” he added.
Former president Pastrana began his own peace process with the FARC during the 1990s. The negotiations ended in disaster, with the rebels taking advantage of a cease-fire to seize territory and take hostages.
Santos had initially vowed to reach a peace deal with the rebels within a year but, more recently, said that it had not been realistic to try to end five decades of bloody conflict in just 12 months.
The two sides have so far only reached partial agreements on three of the five points on the negotiations agenda.
On Tuesday, the president proposed to split up the negotiating teams to advance faster on the two remaining issues on the table.