The Four Critical Alliances for the 2018 Colombian Presidential Elections

The unpopularity of President Santos has changed the political paradigm in Colombia (
The unpopularity of President Santos has changed the political paradigm in Colombia (Pinterest).


By Jair Pena

In 2010, on a Saturday afternoon in Bogotá, at 3:45 pm, the capital’s particular climate revealed its peculiarities: at times it was raining, and at times the sun appeared at times; cold breeze coincided with starling solar warmth.

The successful presidential candidate, ex-minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos was already in the Plaza de Bolivar, ready to take the oath of office and receive the presidential sash fom Armando Benedetti, president of Congress at that time. He faced the greatest challenge of his life, for which he was prepared – according to those who know him from youth. It was a tough challenge: he was taking over from the most popular leader in Colombia’s history, Álvaro Uribe Vélez.

In the course of his administration he distanced himself significantly from his predecessor’s vision for country, and from the outlook of the Colombian people who, in general, were beginning to believe in the military defeat of drug trafficking and terrorism, while observing a sustained economic growth thanks to investor confidence and austere management of the state. His first disagreements focused on purely bureaucratic subjects. However, the diplomatic policy of Santos towards Ecuador and Venezuela, ideological rivals of the previous government, would soon cause a rift between Bogota and Antioquia. The absolute rupture was precipitated by the FARC-Santos dialogues of Havana; something that the former president and more than half a country did not forgive Santos for in the plebiscite held in October 2016.

What is indisputable is that the president who succeeded the most popular has been the most unpopular: his mandate has been marked by misguided measures such as tax reforms, the creation of dozens of state agencies to pay political cronies, disproportionate spending on advertising and an increase in public debt; in addition to being tainted by various scandals of corruption, such as the sale of Isagen, Reficar’s “overcharges”, the financing of his second presidential campaign by Odrebrecht, and embezzlement in Saludcoop, among others.

Today there is no convinced “Santista”: his former allies, try to distance themselves from him: he counts with neither the support of the radical left pursuing unconditional dialogue and agreement, nor the “moderate” left with whom he co-governed from the middle of his first period, nor the center represented by Vargas and Pinzón, want to be associated with Santos. Needless to say, neither does the Colombian right.

In such a scenario, the race for the presidency will be marked by constant criticism of Santos: take, for example, Claudia López, who has most often supported the proposals of his government, although in front of the cameras she claims the mantle of his most fervent opponent. In the meantime, the country depends on the good judgment and sobriety of the Colombians, since Colombia does not support an extension of the Santista model, the economy is significantly weaker, and the damage to political institutions is evident.

Given that no one can succeed alone in the post-Santos era, there will be four alliances that will determine the fate of the elections of 2018:

Left-wing Alliance

Gustavo Petro, Piedad Córdoba and the FARC candidate. The ex-guerrilla of the M19 and ex-mayor of Bogota has been the most favorable to the constituent assembly in Venezuela; his positions are not far from the socialism of the XXI century, therefore, an alliance with Piedad Córdoba, one of those responsible for the social crisis in the neighboring country and sympathizer of the FARC guerrillas, is hardly surprising.

Center-left Alliance

This may include some strange alliances, but has strong electoral prospects. It will be composed of Jorge Enrique Robledo (MOIR), Sergio Fajardo (Independent), Claudia López (Green Alliance), Clara López (Independent), Humberto de la Calle (Liberal), Juan Manuel Galán , Roy Barreras (U) and Mauricio Cárdenas. All of them are defenders of the Havana agreement and faithfully represent the president’s thinking.

Center Alliance

Composed of the most ambiguous candidates in the political spectrum, Germán Vargas Lleras and Juan Carlos Pinzón, they do not seem to have many electoral options, and will be punished at the polls for their lack of definition and clarity. Vargas as vice president neither supported nor opposed the Santos-FARC Agreement, and it will cost him. Pinzón, for his part, occupied the Ministry of Defense and was Ambassador of Colombia to the United States, so it is difficult to believe in his opportune separation from the current administration.

Center-right Alliance

The Great Republican Alliance – thus termed by Rafael Nieto Loaiza – seems to be the most homogeneous and solid. It exists in reality, and not merely for purposes of political convenience. It will include the experienced opposition politicians: Álvaro Uribe Vélez, Andrés Pastrana Arango, Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado, Marta Lucía Ramírez, Luis Alfredo Ramos, Óscar Iván Zuluaga and Jaime Castro. These veterans will also count on the support of Iván Duque, María del Rosario Guerra, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, Paloma Valencia and Rafael Nieto Loaiza, the great surprise and promise of what we could now call “conservative-uribismo.”

Jair Pena is a student of Political Science, opinion columnist, analyst and political advisor. He is a a director of the citizen movement Acción Republicana and member of New Democracy (Civic Platform). ProVida.

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