Santos coalition retains Congress majority, but Uribe becomes head of the opposition

Posted on Mar 13 2014 - 12:23am by Rico

Colombian voters showed tepid support for peace talks with FARC guerrillas on Sunday by giving the country’s president Juan Manuel Santos a majority in Congress, but also electing his conservative rival, ex-president Alvaro Uribe, to the senate.

The Colombian president congratulated Uribe hoping “we can work together for the country”

The Colombian president congratulated Uribe hoping “we can work together for the country”

Furthermore, in a country punished by decades of internal fighting and where voting is not compulsory, abstention reached almost 60%

President Santos, who took office in 2010 after serving as the popular Uribe’s defense minister, is engaged in talks with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels aimed at ending their half-century insurgency. Uribe, who vehemently opposed the talks when they opened in late 2012 in Cuba, was elected senator Sunday with strong support.

Nevertheless Santos’s center-right coalition won 47 of the 102 senate seats, according to official returns with nearly all of the votes counted. In the lower chamber, Santos supporters won 91 of the 163 seats, official returns show.

The vote “is an important sign for the country and the whole world that the immense majority of us want peace,” Santos, who is up for re-election on May 25, said late Sunday. Santos then extended an olive branch to the ex-president.

“I also want to congratulate senator Uribe,” he said. “I hope that we can leave aside the hatred and resentments, and can work for the country.”

Uribe’s 2002-2010 tenure in office was characterized by a military crackdown — ironically, led by Santos — that decimated the FARC’s top leadership. He opposed all negotiations with guerillas, and left office with high approval ratings.

While Uribe’s Democratic Center party does not have enough clout by itself to thwart legislation, he has become the de facto opposition leader and now has a bully pulpit to oppose the talks. He could also prove a major obstacle if Santos reaches a deal with the FARC that has to be approved by Congress.

“The vote for Uribe is a punishment vote for Santos. It questions his negotiations with the FARC,” said Vicente Torrijos, an analyst with the Rosario University.

The results “are not good for Santos,” opined Mauricio Vargas, a top political columnist for the daily El Tiempo

He wrote that Uribe’s group has the largest presence in Congress as a single party, “while all of the parties belonging to Santos’s coalition lose seats.”

Campaigning on the slogan “No to impunity,” Uribe became Colombia’s first ex-president to seek a Senate seat.

Uribe, 61, accuses Santos of treason, saying he had turned the FARC into “political players” by giving them a high-profile stage in Havana, where the talks are being held.

“Today we voted against the Castro-Chavismo that some want to bring, that the government is supporting,” Uribe said Sunday, a reference to the regimes in Cuba and Venezuela. He said that his party supports “a country that has no hesitation to oppose terrorism.”

Source: Merco Press