“The happiest man in Colombia today is Juan Manuel Santos,” said fellow presidential candidate Gustavo Petro following the Supreme Court’s ruling barring a 3rd term for President Uribe. Who is Juan Manuel Santos? He’s Colombia’s former Defense Minister and the current favorite for the Presidential Elections on May 30th. One of the first polls conducted after the court ruling placed support for Santos at 23%, with opposition candidate Gustavo Petro at 11% and former Senator German Vargas Lleras and former Medellín mayor Sergio Fajardo both sharing 9%.
Some analysis: Everyone here has regarded Santos as the default frontrunner (if Uribe couldn’t stand) since last year. If elected, he would most likely maintain the course that current President Uribe has plotted. However, his elite background and relationship with Big Media threaten to undermine his support with poorer voters in Colombia. Every candidate (except for Petro) has praised and pledged to continue Uribe’s security policy, placing social and economic issues as the main differences between the candidates.
However, the only candidate that has outright challenged the competency (and legality) of Uribe’s presidency is the Democratic Pole’s Gustavo Petro, making him the true opposition candidate. And yes, he has a history of guerilla militancy that nearly barred him from being able to stand for election. After starting a political party influenced by his former history with the April M-19 movement, Petro sought to legitimize his ideals by forming a Left-wing alliance to win a seat in the Chamber of Representatives in Bogota. The guerilla-turned-economist was a wildly popular representative, prompting him to run for Senator of Colombia (twice) and was reelected with the second highest voter turnout in the country in 2006. I won’t go much into the details of his sparring with President Uribe, but he has been one of the most vocal critics of the Uribe adminstration, launching probes and public debates into the dark spots of the Uribe presidency, namely about the relationship between paramilitaries and drug trafficking. In addition to receiving several death threats against his family, there have been several incidents in which the Colombian Secret Service has been accused of spying on his family. Petro has also been a vocal critic of the FARC guerilla insurgency, comparing them to Pol Pot and stating: “the FARC aren’t revolutionaries, they aren’t left but right wing and they are criminals.”
What surprises me is that in a country where there are so much anxiety about the future of the security situation, how a candidate clearly opposed to the current state of affairs can get such broad support. Granted, this poll was early, the sample was small and a lot of people are fed up with Uribe; but keep in mind that in less than three months, the next President of the Republic of Colombia will be elected. There is a huge pool of candidates looking to take advantage of this relatively short time and none has really put down all their chips just yet. My guess is that most are waiting to test the waters with the results of the Congressional elections which happen in less than two weeks! Considering both presidential and congressional campaigns have now “officially” started, it’s a fascinating time to be following politics in this country.
*Above images are from: www.elecciones.com.co, which features a full list of all of the congressional and presidential candidates running and some really cool interactive features.