The South American country faces a new challenge in 2018: the presidential elections. To consolidate the implementation of the peace agreements in Colombia or to witness their total distortion or collapse will depend to a large extent on who wins the electoral contest.
The Colombians will go to the polls to elect Congress (on 11 March) and the new president (at the first round, 25 May).
Although it is early for predicting results, there is already a fierce electoral struggle between those who support the Havana Agreement and those who oppose it.
So who are the candidates to succeed Juan Manuel Santos?
Of the more than 60 officially shortlisted candidates who almost three months ago were making a bid for the presidency, only 13 remain and that number will continue to diminish after the interparty votes announced for mid-March.
For the first time, the number of presidential candidates in Colombia endorsed by signatures from the public is greater than electoral candidates for political parties which are beset by corruption scandals and questioned by the electorate.
Of 11 politicians who chose to submit signatures of supporters from the public to register their candidacies, eight reached the minimum required, represented by 386,148, the equivalent of three percent of the total valid votes cast in the previous elections.
The ex-governor of Antioquia Sergio Fajardo, the former minister of defence Juan Carlos Pinzón and the former vice president of the republic Germán Vargas Llera were legally declared as candidates for the office of head of state.
Also, legally declared as candidates for the presidency were the former Senator Piedad Córdoba, the former prosecutor Alejandro Ordóñez, the ex-minister Marta Lucía Ramírez, the former mayor of Santa Marta Carlos Caicedo and the former mayor of Bogotá Gustavo Petro.
Vargas, Caicedo, Córdoba and Ordóñez* were the candidates with most public signatures.
The retired general Luis Mendieta, the former director of Coldeportes (the Colombian department for sport, leisure and physical education) Jairo Clopatofsky and the former Peace Commissioner Frank Pearl failed to gain enough signatures to contest the election.
Endorsed by their parties in addition are candidates Humberto de la Calle (Liberal), Clara Lopez (Independent Social Alliance-ASI), Iván Duque (Democratic Centre), Viviane Morales (Somos) and Rodrigo Londoño, alias Timochenko (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – FARC).
A distinguishing feature of the presidential election is the fact that for the first time the main Colombian ex-guerrilla force will be able to participate after becoming a political party on 1 September 2017.
This, without a doubt, gives a historic character to these elections, a dimension accentuated by the fact that the direction of Colombia’s peace agenda will also be decided at the polls.
The desire of left wing, democratic and liberal groups in the country is for 2018 to be a year of achievements regarding the peace process and social entitlements and they are appealing for unity among the many sectors as the only way to achieve this aspiration.
“Alone, no one succeeds,” said ASI candidate Clara López, the driving force behind a large peace coalition aimed at defeating the Right’s powerful electoral machine.
Two days after making this pronouncement**, the ex-minister of work surprisingly stepped down from the coalition which she was a part of alongside Caicedo (Citizens Force) and Petro (Colombia Humana), after learning that Humberto de la Calle (also an ex vice president of Colombia) declined to join.
“If it has not been possible to proceed via the election route as we had expected, we will have to explore other avenues,” López said, referring to the refusal of the former chief negotiator of the government in Havana.
“It has not possible to form the grand coalition and our objective is to mount an unstoppable force behind the implementation of the peace agreement,” she added.
De la Calle had been invited by the former minister to a vote in March for the election of a single candidate of a Centre-Left championing peace.
The Liberal argued that the concurrence of the interparty votes with the parliamentary elections, far from promoting unity on the issue of peace, would hinder it.
He did not close the door entirely on the call for unity, saying he continues to support peace and agreements “that promote this higher purpose” could be pursued after the legislative elections.
Neither did the presidential candidate for the conservative Colombia Coalition and ex-governor of Antioquia Sergio Fajardo, champion of the fight against corruption and of supporting the peace process, accept the idea of a political alliance with De la Calle or Petro, making it known that he will contest the first round alone.
Moreover, in the wake of crisis in the Centre-Left, the Right in Colombia showed strength.
A few hours after the deadline had passed for informing the National Registry of those who will be putting themselves forward for the legislative elections on 11 March, former defence Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez agreed to represent, as its sole candidate, the alliance promoted by former presidents Andrés Pastrana (1998-2002) and Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010).
Thus, the candidate of the “For a Strong and Honest Colombia” movement will lock horns with Iván Duque, candidate of the ‘Uribist’ Democratic Centre (founded by former president Álvaro Uribe) and ex-prosecutor Alejandro Ordóñez, a candidate endorsed by public signature.
“I have taken the decision to participate in the vote (…) We can’t be irresponsible and split the vote,” affirmed Ramírez, because she knows that in unity there is strength. Moreover, days before, the Uribe-Pastrana alliance had been on the verge of collapse due to disagreements between the parties. Former Vice President Vargas Lleras, also a representative of the Right and business groups, who is supported by his party Radical Change and who is predicted will gain Uribist votes in the second round, it appears, is contesting the first round alone.
The Radical Change party split from the government over their refusal to support laws necessary for the peace process and the party is beginning to sound like those intent on destroying what was agreed in Havana.
Someone commented of Vargas Lleras: “He will flaunt all his skills in the elections. Each aspect, facet or circumstance that can be taken advantage of in the system itself will be skilfully used by him.”
The road for now is full of unanswered questions and things will only become clearer in the feverish electoral contest of the coming months.
(Translated by Nigel Conibear – DipTrans IoLET MCIL – firstname.lastname@example.org)