Juan Manuel Santos Prevails for Second Term as Colombian President
Español This Sunday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won his runoff election for the 2014-2018 presidential term. According to the official count of the National Civil Registry of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos won with 7,816,986 votes and 50.95 percent of the total, with a slightly higher margin of 52 percent (1,337,349 votes) in Bogotá, the capital.
Opposition candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga gained 6,905,001 votes for 45.00 percent of the total. Meanwhile, a considerable minority, 4.03 percent or 619,396 voters, voiced their disapproval by submitting blank ballots. Perhaps even more indicative of electorate dissatisfaction, 52.11 percent of eligible voters chose not to participate at all.
Following the outcome, the reelected president, accompanied by his family, gave a victory speech that lasted 31 minutes. Santos showed on the palm of his hand the word “peace” (paz), and he thanked Colombians for their confidence in him and his running mate, Germán Vargas Lleras.
“You have to fix what you have to fix, adjust what you have to adjust, and reform what needs to be reformed. Peace has to come to us via deep reforms in the country. But the message today is for the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] and the ELN [National Liberation Army], and it is clear: this is the end, and you have to reach it with seriousness and determination. This is the end of over 50 years of violence in the country and the beginning of a Colombia with more freedom and social justice, at peace with itself,” Santos said, as his supporters chanted “FARC, FARC, Colombia wants peace.”
For Carlos Alfonso Murgas, a Students for Liberty local coordinator in Bogotá, the result is not unexpected given the heavy campaigning from the governing party after the first round.
“The mobilization began with strategic concessions in critical areas such as Bogotá, where the collaboration of Gustavo Petro [Bogota mayor] played a fundamental role in the conquest of the capital. In addition, political parties such as the Alternative Democratic Pole — headed by former presidential candidate Clara López — the Green Alliance [which includes Petro], and the National Unity coalition expressed support for Santos,” Murgas said.
The Peace Process, Key to Victory
After performing poorly in the first round, Santos stressed in his rhetoric his administration’s efforts to achieve peace in Colombia. At that time, various sectors of the Colombian economy and political community also weighed in in favor of the peace process established by the president.
Senator Armando Benedetti Villaneda said that “the outcome of today’s election is much more important than the victory of a candidate, some political parties, and some social organizations. This result is a key sent for a new country, because Colombians decided to turn a simple runoff into a spontaneous and anticipated referendum on the peace process.”
Support for this process came from a group of 80 businessmen, who last Wednesday sent a letter to Santos. They expressed confidence in the peace process, considering it essential for a new presidential term.
Murgas of SFL explains that the peace talks in Havana with the FARC were crucial to the success of Santos. A statement of agreement from the ELN for a similar dialogue process was also a boost, even if a final outcome will take more than good political will from both sides.
“The peace process in Colombia has a particular requirement: the agreements reached after peace talks must still be approved by Colombians.… Here the strength of the promise will be seen. So, the question will not be if an agreement is achieved with the FARC. Rather, the central issue is whether the agreed points shall be signed off on by the Colombian people and whether this will lead to real peace,” Murgas stressed.
Zuluaga Congratulates Santos
Accepting defeat speech, Óscar Iván Zuluaga said that “because of democratic conviction, I must congratulate President Santos for his victory. Such is democracy. We have offered a battle full of ideas and enthusiasm for Colombia.”
He also thanked the former president Alvaro Uribe for his ongoing support and physical effort during the presidential campaign, covering each point of the Colombian countryside, as if it were his own campaign.
He finished his speech with “Viva Colombia, I love you. We lost with dignity, with integrity, and we will continue here, in the fight for this country.”
Correspondingly, during his victory speech, Santos addressed Zuluaga and thanked him for the nobility with which recognized the official victory. “I will govern with the greatest respect for my political opponents. That is peace.”
Economic Challenges ahead for Santos
In addition to the promise of peace, Juan Manuel Santos has also stressed continuity of his work done in the last four years, especially to strengthen the economy of Colombia and the agricultural sector.
Murgas says Colombia owes its heightened economic prosperity to the signing of several Free Trade Agreements, and limited improvements to the nation’s economic freedom. But the current government, he contends, has also made and promised several reforms that necessitate tax increases:
“Colombian analysts project that to meet the campaign promises of the reelected President Santos, there will have to be a new tax reform that further centralizes the revenues generated by the mining and oil industries. Still, the inflow of foreign capital into the country has been favorable, but it has sparked concern. These investors will resist a second tax reform in less than three years?”