The New Year is upon us and the January editorial is always one of the most difficult, as getting back into a writing mode after the Christmas holiday requires plenty of stamina. But Colombians are a resilient lot having dealt with the vicissitudes of 2017, from tax reform to a post-conflict.
This year will be marked by presidential elections and a decisive – if not divisive – moment for all. Even though it is too premature to make predictions, as the race officially gets underway January 27 when all candidates are required to register, a handful of experienced politicians have announced their intention to run, but have not come forward with clear platforms as to where they would lead this country if elected on May 27. And should no candidate clinch the first round, a presidential run-off is scheduled for June 17.
The clock has begun to tick for a race with 21 potential candidates, among them Germán Vargas Lleras of Cambio Radical; Sergio Fajardo of Coalición Colombia; Humberto de la Calle for the Partido Liberal. Iván Duque is the official candidate of the right-wing Centro Democrático and former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro appears a political orphan unless he can forge an alliance or go it alone as an independent.
A poll released by Guarumo last month puts the center-left candidate Sergio Fajardo as the current frontrunner with 18,7% of voting intention, followed by Iván Duque with 11,3%. A parallel poll from the Centro Nacional de Consultoría still puts Sergio Fajardo in the lead with 26%, followed by Petro 17%, Germán Vargas 10%, and Humberto de la Calle tied with Iván Duque with 9%.
This month is all about forging alliances, beginning with the overly confident Vargas Lleras who believes he can go it alone, to the official Liberal candidate and former peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle who needs to regain the confidence of a traditional party that has seen its base erode to the independents. The advance of a progressive left is represented in Fajardo, Senator Jorge Robeldo and Claudia López. In the game, but hardly game-changers are FARC’s former senior commander Rodrigo Londoño, former minister of defense Juan Camilo Pinzón, and Piedad Cordoba.
Democratic change is looming on the horizon, and if there is one issue that will mark the 2018 presidential race is the future of the Final Accord with FARC. Besides Humberto de la Calle who led the peace team in Havana and Sergio Fajardo, German Vargas has been vocal with his “No” stance on an agreement that was put to Colombians in a 2016 nationwide plebiscite.
Former presidents Álvaro Uribe Vélez and Andrés Pastrana are hammering out options for an official candidate for their Despierta Colombia alliance. Former Minister of Defense Marta Lucía Ramírez is Pastrana’s choice, but the ultra-conservative ex-Prosecutor General Alejandro Ordóñez believes his name should also be included in this conservative coalition.
With just over four months before the first round, the candidates on the “No” camp will have to justify to the Colombian electorate how they would make amends to the peace process with FARC; and a demobilized group firmly entrenched as a political party. FARC are not immune to the political climate and should they feel out-manoeuvred in these historic post-conflict elections, they could consider breaking away from politics all together and make a return to the mountains where the insurgency began.
By the time Colombians head to the ballot, it will almost be two years since the government of Juan Manuel Santos signed the peace process with FARC. Too much has been gained in the search for peace, despite an imperfect implementation of the post-conflict. But the post-conflict is what needs to be addressed – not the Final Accord.
Pundits claim we’re in for a “dirty campaign,” but I disagree. The real challenge is putting Colombia’s economic house in order, eradicating the coca harvest and welcoming direct foreign investment. Corruption is the real problem, and as important as FARC’s involvement in politics. By clamping down on corruption and completing large-scale infrastructure projects, maybe this country will be able to better trade with the world.
If many businesses – big and small – endured a lack-lustre 2017, Colombia has a real opportunity to turn the tide. Peace may still be a work in progress, but one that needs to be defended. If we continue to see ourselves as citizens of a Banana Republic, then we’ll remain one. This year, the presidential elections offer an opportunity to bring the nation together. If we can’t advance on this most important of all issues, then we’re most likely in for a repeat of 2017. Let’s hope this is not the case for there is simply too much at stake.