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Colombia: round two

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

President Juan Manuel Santos and his main challenger, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, will meet again in a runoff election on June 15, to determine who will lead Colombia for the next four years.

In last Sunday's balloting, Santos with 26% of the vote finished three points behind Zuluaga, finance minister in the second administration (2007-2010) of President Alvaro Uribe.

Neither candidate was close to the minimum 50% needed to avoid a second round of elections.

One of the main differences between the two candidates is how to end the country’s civil war, which is now 50 years old, and which has caused the deaths of close to a quarter of a million people.

Not many Colombians seem to care about the issue.

Abstention in last Sunday’s election was 60%, highest in the country’s modern history.

Still, recent advances in the peace process between the government and the country’s main rebel force – the FARC – may have ended a three-month slide in Santos’ popularity.

The FARC last month agreed to get out of the cocaine business, its main source of revenue, in return for support for conventional farming in rural areas.

Additional revenue could come from new licenses to exploit potential oil-gas reserves in parts of the country dominated by the FARC.

A second mandate will let negotiations continue, in order to resolve remaining issues, such as reparations for victims, and possible punishment for FARC leaders, says Santos.

Negotiations started in 2012 in Havana.

For his part, Zuluaga would return to the line taken by Uribe of no negotiations until the FARC stops all acts of what the candidate calls “criminal violence”.

In Santos’ favor, violence is down since he took office, while the economy has had a healthy average annual growth rate of 5%.