Sunday, June 15, 2014

Colombia: Update--Zuluaga Has Slim Lead Over Santos, Turnout is Expected to be 40%, Results Tonight

According to The Associated Press, Colombians voted Sunday (June 15) in the nation's tightest presidential contest in over 20 years, an election that President Juan Manuel Santos, 62, has framed as a referendum on peace talks to end the Western Hemisphere's longest-running conflict.

His right-wing adversary, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, 55, has challenged the slow-going negotiations with rebels in Havana, accusing Santos of selling out to an insurgency that is already on the ropes.
Zuluaga is the hand-picked candidate of former two-term President Alvaro Uribe, who has played a major role in what has been Colombia's dirtiest campaign in years.

A former Uribe finance minister who stresses his provincial roots as a contrast to Santos' blue-blood lineage, the 55-year-old Zuluaga won the most votes in a five-candidate field in the election's May 25 first round.

The last Invamer-Gallup poll gave Zuluaga a slim 48.5% lead over Santos' 47.7%, with a 3.7% of respondents saying they would choose neither candidate. The margin for error was 3%.

COMMENT: As I have said in the past, the heated election is far too close to call, although Zuluaga may prevail for the following reasons:

1. Turnout may be apathetically low;

2. Very often, those who win the first round can often prevail;

3. The peace talks, underway since 2012, with little progress in Havana, have produced little in the way of results;

4. As mentioned previously, the talks proceeded without a cease-fire being in place, suggesting a lackluster commitment on both sides;

5. Colombians have grown fatigued with peace negotiations that have produced little; and

6. The government is negotiating simultaneously with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN), which could result in the Government being "mousetrapped" by one or the other.

Most importantly, the one factor that must be considered in any peace accord with the FARC and ELN is the human toll on Colombian citizens:

According to the latest data, during 1958 and 2013, at least 177,000 civilians have lost their lives. Reportedly, no statistics are available for the entirety of the 50-year-old armed conflict.

The insurgents must halt all military activity, says Zuluaga, with some essentially having to agree to jail time. He and Uribe accuse Santos of offering impunity to the rebels.

Yet the US-educated Santos has always had a "severe likeability and trust problem," says analyst Adam Isacson of the Washington Office on Latin America, and has been "unable to shake the image of an out-of-touch Bogotá aristocrat who will promise everything and deliver little."

The slow pace of peace talks in Havana have also not helped Santos.

The peace process also ranks relatively low on most Colombians' list of priorities. The Gallup poll found less than 5% of respondents believe the FARC will be the next president's main challenge. 

Economic growth averaged 4.5% annually during Santos' four years. Additionally, some 2.5 million jobs were added, yet President Santos has done little to improve education, health care and infrastructure.