Colombia: Juan Manuel Santos Wins Presidency in Runoff

NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, July 2, 2010 | Go to article overview

Colombia: Juan Manuel Santos Wins Presidency in Runoff


By Andrés Gaudín

In Colombia's June 20 presidential-runoff election, Juan Manuel Santos, President Álvaro Uribe's choice to be his successor, was elected for a four-year term beginning Aug. 7. Santos won nearly 70% of the votes, compared with less than 28% for opponent Antanas Mockus (see NotiSur, 2010-05-21), leader of the Partido Verde (PV).

In a country where voting is not mandatory, analysts were still surprised at the high (54%) abstention rate, which will limit the new president's mandate and call into question the essence of democracy in the South American country. With such high abstention, Colombia outdid the US, where abstention is common, and Iraq, a country at war.

After eight years of the authoritarian Uribe administrations, the country must now face a reality in which basic questions demand immediate attention and correction.

No other runoff result was possible. Since the first round on May 30, the only doubt was what the final numbers would be. Now is the time, then, to review the challenges the new president will face. Analysts summarize them as follows: he must fight corruption, unemployment, and poverty; improve institutional quality, public health, and education; reduce violence and end the systematic violation of human rights; respond to the humanitarian drama of 4 million people displaced by the internal war. That is no small task.

This is also the time for those running opinion polls--all of them, including the most well-known in the world--to explain why they got it so wrong when only six weeks ago they were sure that Mockus would be the next president. Or, if they were not wrong, they should explain why they imagined that the "green" candidate could win.

Senator alleges Mockus was used to give election legitimacy

Sen. Piedad Córdoba said, "Mockus was a candidate invented by the establishment to legitimize an anti-democratic electoral process." No one, not even Mockus, has responded to the allegation of the woman who became famous for her humanitarian role in obtaining the release of hostages held in the jungle by guerrilla groups (see NotiSur, 2009-03-06 and 2010-04-23).

"The corruption issue is critical because it affects absolutely everything and all societal actions, the public sector and the private sector, politics, the economy, Congress, the judicial system, and the executive branch," political analyst Elizabeth Ungar, director of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Transparencia por Colombia, told Reuters news agency.

Ungar said that, if Santos "does not energetically tackle corruption, governability will be seriously undermined, not only because corruption affects quality of life but also because it threatens the legitimacy and credibility of institutions, which are the pillars of any democracy."

Ungar's statements have their rationale. The Uribe administration was tainted by the most serious corruption scandals: improperly awarding subsidies to the agrarian oligarchy, providing perks to lawmakers, spying on people from all walks of life, and killing thousands of people. (Although Colombia has no death penalty, officially these crimes are called "extrajudicial executions.")

For the Transparencia por Colombia expert, social issues should rank as high as corruption on the future president's agenda. "In Uribe's eight years in office, by making security policy his absolute priority, he has neglected social issues and that could become a time bomb," she said. (Uribe has served two consecutive terms as president: 2002-2006 and 2006-2010.)

Government statistics show that in March the unemployment rate was 12.3% and the poverty rate was 45.5%.

Meanwhile, the health sector is in a crisis that threatens its own sustainability because of a lack of resources, and access to quality education has become the exclusive privilege of families with ample economic resources.

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