The results of the Colombian election last Sunday were not a surprise. Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, whose party Centro Democratico is associated with former president Alvaro Uribe, won 29.25% of the vote, while incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos representing Partido de la U garnered 25.69%, a margin of over 450,000 votes between the two. This sends both candidates into a second round on June 15.
The campaign has been highly acrimonious with the leading candidates trading accusations of personal malfeasance. The main substantive difference has been President Santos’ vehement defense of the peace process he established with the remnants of the once powerful FARC guerrilla, and Zuluaga and Uribe’s sharp condemnation of those negotiations.
Much of the electorate has been turned off by the tenor of the presidential campaign. The level of abstention was very high with only 13 million of the of the 33 million registered voters showing up at the polls, and, 39% of the voters supported alternative candidates, Martha Lucia Ramirez (15.52%) from the Conservative party, Clara Lopez (15.23%) from the leftist Polo Democratico Alternativo, and former mayor of Bogota Enrique Peñalosa (8.28%) from the center-left environmentalist party, Alianza Verde.
Santos is likely to win the second round, by a razor-thin margin as he is likely to be supported by most of the electorate that voted for Lopez and Peñalosa. As of this Wednesday the conservative party has become irrevocably divided. Former candidate Ramirez, and a group of members of congress have gone to support Mr. Zuluaga, but it is likely that a large majority will join the President.
Many leaders on the left have also pledged their support for President Santos, citing the need to support the peace process. That, of course assumes, that electoral turnout will remain constant. Should a larger portion of the electorate vote in the second round, it is difficult to predict the preferences of the abstainers, particularly as the campaign is likely to become even more aggressive and polarizing.
However, the second round promises to be nastier than the first, as Colombia becomes more polarized. Whatever the result, it is unlikely that Colombia will deviate from the economic policies followed by the last two administrations, making the country one of the most attractive in Latin America for foreign investors.