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Colombia: Continuity on hold

Monday, May 5, 2014


Juan Manuel Santos still seems likely to be re-elected on May 25 as president of Colombia, but the gap is closing between him and his main opponents.

With the support of 23% of voters in April, Santos is still the leading candidate.

But this is five points fewer than his numbers in a poll taken last February, and far below the 50% level necessary to prevent a run-off election.

Meanwhile, second-place candidate Oscar Zuluaga nearly doubled his popularity in the same period, rising to 15%, according to a survey published at the end of April by Ipsos Napoleon Franco.

Zuluaga is backed by ex president Alvaro Uribe.

A major issue in the campaign is how to deal with the FARC, Colombia’s main rebel group, while recent unrest in the agro sector has added to Santos’ problems.

With regard to the FARC, Santos last month asked for an extension of peace talks, under which the rebels would demilitarize and become a conventional political party.

Zuluaga for his part would return to a policy established during Uribe’s terms of office, of taking a hard line with the FARC.

Uribe was president between 2002 and 2010.

An option for Santos is to offer to share royalties from oil-gas exploitation in Colombia's southern zone, where the FARC is strongest.

With increased participation in the energy sector, areas controlled by the FARC could replace cocaine production, currently a main source of revenue.

A critical issue is how to bridge the gap, until oil-gas production starts in the area.

Peace negotiations between the FARC and the government are scheduled to end in June, nearly two years since they began.

The decline in Santos’ popularity is due also to discontent among farm workers, including clashes with police last month, which led to as many as 20 deaths.

Without various support programs, farmers can’t compete with imports from several countries, with which Colombia has free trade agreements, say representatives of the agro sector.