Colombians vote for peace

The race for the Colombian presidency was close, but still produced a reasonably comfortable second-round win for incumbent Juan Manuel Santos, who had 53.1% against 46.9% for challenger Óscar Zuluaga – a margin a bit over 910,000 votes. Turnout was 47.9%, well up on the first round’s 40.1%.

If you simply take the first round results and add the two left-wing candidates’ totals to Santos’s and the other right-winger’s to Zuluaga’s, you get 52.4% to 47.6%, so it looks as if voters did take it to be pretty much a straight left-right contest. Or, as I suggested on Sunday, a choice between war and peace.

So Santos now has the chance to see if he can follow through on the promise of peace with the FARC guerrillas. It’s been a curious journey for him; from a conventional establishment background, he became finance minister in 2000 and from 2006 to 2009 served as defence minister under president Álvaro Uribe. In that capacity he was at the forefront of the war against FARC, which was carried out with considerable success but also with a disturbing record of human rights violations.

But upon succeeding Uribe, Santos surprised the world by taking a different track and pursuing the path of negotiations. So far they have been remarkably successful, despite the long trail of blood that both sides have left behind them.

It may of course all come to nothing. FARC, knowing that the president’s legacy is in their hands, may well ratchet up their demands. And a large minority of Colombians, as the election shows, are at best sceptical about Santos’s strategy, so he will have to tread warily if a peace deal is to win acceptance.

But for the chance of ending a conflict that’s been devastating Colombia for half a century, it’s surely worth a try.

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