On Sunday Colombians reelected President Juan Manuel Santos in one of the nation’s closest elections in decades. Declared a referendum for peace, the election signals public support for the ongoing peace negotiations between the Santos government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, better known as the FARC. The fifty-year armed conflict between the Colombian government and the FARC has resulted in more than 200,000 people dead and has displaced over six million. The current peace talks mark the fourth negotiation attempt at resolving the war. Begun under the Santos administration in 2012, these peace talks have already delivered agreements on the issues of illicit crops and drug trafficking, agrarian reforms and political participation. The issues of victims and terms to end the conflict remain on the negotiating table for when parties reconvene in Havana post-election.
By no means does the election present an authoritative mandate of approval for the peace process. Incumbent Santos secured 50.9% of the popular vote while far-right challenger Óscar Iván Zuluaga received 45%. The other 4% of voters submitted blank ballots. Furthermore only 48% of eligible voters turned out for the contested election. In the first round of presidential elections two weeks earlier, Zuluaga led with 29% of the vote. Backed by former president Uribe, Zuluaga vowed to suspend peace talks, but amended his position shortly before the second round of elections in order to secure the support of ex-candidate Marta Lucía Ramírez of the Conservative Party and the two million voters that supported her in the first round. Santos also gained support from two eliminated first-round candidates, and, as a result between the first and second elections, Santos doubled his votes in the coastal region and gained another million votes in the capital, Bogotá. These two regions delivered Santos the win.
Given the low voter turnout and narrow margin of victory, popular support for the peace negotiations is unclear. This indicates that Santos must still prioritize securing public support in the final rounds of peace negotiations. Without the broad support of the Colombian people to implement the agreements, a negotiated peace between the government and the FARC will be wasted.
Kaitlin is currently interning with Corporación Podion in Bogotá, Colombia.