Peace At Last?

By bogotapost June 17, 2014

Santos victory flickrPresident Juan Manuel Santos elected to second term by large margin, vows to build peace and social justice

In what is widely seen as a vote of confidence for the peace process, voters went to the polls on Sunday to re-elect Juan Manuel Santos to a second term as president of Colombia.

The president-elect won by a decisive 5-percentage-point margin over his right-wing opponent Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.

As polls closed and vote counting began just after 4pm on Sunday, it gradually became clear that Santos would win the election by a large margin, and Colombian media officially called his re-election just 40 minutes into the count.

Santos received a total of 7,816,537 votes, or 50.95 percent overall. By contrast, Zuluaga got 6,904,989 votes, or 45 percent overall, while the Voto en Blanco protest vote garnered 619,394 ballots cast, or just over 4 percent of the total vote.

Voter turnout for the second round of the presidential poll saw an 8 percentage point increase, to 48 percent.

Santos told a crowd of cheering supporters in his campaign headquarters in Bogota that his victory was a clear mandate for his administration to forge ahead with the peace talks with the FARC in Havana, and also enter into a dialogue with the smaller ELN rebel group.

But Santos attempted to calm fears that he seeks a peace deal at any cost, including impunity for the heinous crimes committed by many in the FARC leadership during their 50-year insurrection against the state.

“The election sends a message not only to my government, but to the FARC and the ELN: the time for violence has come to an end,” he said Sunday evening, adding, “There will not be peace with impunity.”

Santos also said the time had come for the victims of the half-century-long civil conflict to be included in the peace process.

In a gesture to his rival Zuluaga, Santos urged his opponents to put aside their differences to help build a lasting peace in the country.

“I invite (my political opponents) to support the peace process,” he said. “This is not a peace of Juan Manuel Santos, this is a peace of everyone, of all of you.”

“We are a country of many different regions and we respect others’ differences. We are not enemies,” he added.

Colombian President and presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos (C) celebrates with his wife Maria Clemencia (L) and his daughter Maria Antonia after knowing the results of the runoff presidential election on June 15, 2014, in Bogota. Santos was re-elected with 50.90 percent of the vote, compared with 45.04 percent for the more conservative Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, with 99.37 percent of votes tallied. AFP PHOTO/Guillermo LEGARIA

Colombian President and presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos (C) celebrates with his wife Maria Clemencia (L) and his daughter Maria Antonia. AFP PHOTO/Guillermo LEGARIA

He also used his victory speech to thank members of his political alliance, the so-called “party of unity,” and rival presidential candidate-turned supporter, Clara Lopez.

Lopez’s public support for the president in the second round election brought with it a large number of left-wing voters. These voters generally do not

support Santos, but voted for him out of fear that the peace process would collapse entirely if Zuluaga were to be elected president.

Many analysts believe that Santos will return the political favour to Lopez by offering her a seat in his cabinet.

But Sunday’s election was also mired by allegations of irregularities, illegal advertising and vote buying, according to the independent election watchdog, the Mission of Electoral Observation (MOE).

“On voting day, the MOE received more than 197 reports of irregularities and electoral crimes in 22 departments (provinces) in the country,” the watchdog group said in a statement.

Zuluaga was conciliatory in his concession speech.

“Today is a great day for Latin American democracy, in the fight for a good Colombia,” Zuluaga said.

“I don’t have hate in my heart, just infinite gratitude for the seven million of you (voters),” he added.

But others were not so gracious in defeat.

Former president Alvaro Uribe, a staunch opponent of the peace process, accused Santos in front of a few dozen of his supporters of everything from vote buying to voter intimidation.

“In the name of peace, Santos (ran) the most corrupt campaign in history, characterized by abuse of power, bribery of congressmen, offering public money to regional leaders for illegal support of the president, vote buying,” Uribe charged.

By Mark Kennedy