Colombian president seeks to end conflict, win reelection

Posted on Jan 2 2014 - 9:43pm by Editor

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’s chances to be reelected next May rely to a large extent on his determination to end the country’s 50-year armed conflict, analysts say.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos reacts after he received the 'President's Medal' from University of Miami President Donna Shalala during his visit to the University in Coral Gables, Florida December 2, 2013.

Agreements on some key issues have been reached between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels after they held rounds of peace talks since November in 2012.

Santos hoped the talks will conclude by the middle of 2014 with a peace deal that will see the rebels lay down arms and rejoin the society.

Some political analysts said that if Santos’s administration makes headway in the peace process, his reelection bid is likely to succeed.

Fernando Giraldo, a political analyst at the Xaverian University in the capital Bogota, said that the greater chances to strike a peace deal, the more votes for Santos.

“The president’s campaign has two flagship programs — the peace process and social policies … that put him increasingly closer to the presidency and enable him to win in the first round,” said Giraldo.

But even if Santos fails to deliver a peace deal, his chances for reelection are still positive because “there is no opposition candidate that can compete with him for the presidency,” said Giraldo.

According to Giraldo, the main opposition candidate, Oscar Ivan Zuloaga, lacks the charisma to defeat Santos and is unlikely to increase his supporting rate among voters.

“In legislative elections on March 9, we will find out whether the president can win in the first round or whether he will have to wait (for a runoff), since rivals are hoping there is a second round, to see if they can beat him there,” said Giraldo.

Santos’s flagging popularity has bounced back, reaching 38 percent, according to a poll released last week, as the presidential candidates prepared to begin their electoral campaigns.

The poll also showed Santos’ popularity rating rose 9 percent from two months ago, while his government’s approval rating rose 6 points, reaching 39 percent.

Another poll said the number of voters willing to reelect Santos increased by 8 percent compared to that of last month.

Santos is poised for reelection, especially due to his deft handling of the latest peace process, political analyst Pedro Villamizar said.

“Many people hope that the peace process truly puts an end to the internal armed conflict that has bled this country for some 50 years,” said Villamizar.

“We hope (2014) will be the year of peace, the year that marks the end of the armed conflict that has affected us for half a century,” Santos said in his New Year’s message.

Santos will kick off his reelection campaign at the end of January.

Colombia’s military forces are continuing the fight against FARC rebels as Santos has said maintaining pressure on the rebels is important to get them back to negotiate.