In Colombia’s first presidential elections since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement ending its 50-year war with the FARC insurgency, candidates have competed on issues that affect people’s daily lives and future prospects, rather than who can claim the firmest hand in dealing with armed conflict and real or exaggerated threats.
Political space has been opened for a broader discussion. This is especially true on the left, which had traditionally hewn closer to the centre than elsewhere in Latin America for fear of being branded by the right as soft on the security file.
In first-round voting, candidates who backed the peace accord from the beginning received 59 per cent of the votes. Though they lamented the government’s inadequate preparation in implementing aspects of the accord, they agreed that Colombia had to turn the page.
However, the only major candidate who had originally opposed the peace agreement, Ivan Duque, received 39 per cent of the vote.
Mr. Duque was chaperoned through the right-wing primary election by former president Alvaro Uribe, one of Latin America’s most dominant, wily and polarizing political figures of his generation. Likely sensing that the right needed an image and issue makeover and couldn’t continue to rely exclusively on the war theme, Mr. Uribe chose Mr. Duque. The bright, affable 41-year-old with brief but effective senatorial experience has virtually no political baggage.
His platform reads in part like the worthy programmatic priority list of the Inter-American Development Bank, where he worked for nine years.
He’s walked back his rhetoric on the peace agreement, and now proposes changing select provisions. It’s anyone’s guess how destabilizing to the peace agreement that manoeuvre could be. His plan to restructure the court system is viewed warily by the opposition as a veiled attempt to politicize and control the courts. With an asterisk on the court system proposal, there is nothing extreme on face value about Mr. Duque’s proposals.
But Colombian politics are never about face value. Backstory always plays an important role, and for Mr. Duque’s candidacy, his political patron saint has been Mr. Uribe.
Even though many of his detractors credit Mr. Uribe with successfully battling the FARC so that they had to negotiate their surrender, they would rather sacrifice their first-born child than vote for anyone associated with him. They accuse him of engaging in the darkest shades of black political arts – the judicial accounting of which is still pending.
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