Far-Right Opposition Candidate Takes Colombian Presidential Race to Runoff

Far-Right Opposition Candidate Takes Colombian Presidential Race to Runoff

Colombians took to the polls this weekend and elected a right-wing opposition candidate backed by former President Álvaro Uribe, but not by enough to prevent a run-off vote. Óscar Iván Zuluaga will once again face President Juan Manuel Santos on June 15, with two more weeks for controversy to stew.

Zuluaga, a right-wing candidate who has attacked President Santos for attempting peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a 50-year-old terrorist group, defeated Santos by almost 500,000 votes Sunday. Candidates must win the general election by 50% plus one vote to prevent a runoff between the top two candidates, however, which Zuluaga did not achieve. Zuluaga received 29.25% of the vote, with Santos receiving 25.69%. 

Conservative Party candidate Marta Lucía Ramírez received 15.52%, placing her in third place, while the bottom two presidential candidates were on the left: Democratic Alternative candidate Clara López with 15.25% and Enrique Peñalosa, Green Aliance candidate, with 8.3% of the vote. Their voters will now become the target audience for Zuluaga and Santos as they head to a run-off.

Both frontrunner presidential candidates have faced controversies during the course of the election cycle. The discovery of a hacker stealing confidential communications from the FARC peace talks led directly to the online publication of a video in which Zuluaga and his campaign staff can be seen and heard discussing campaign work with the hacker. Santos, meanwhile, has been under constant verbal assault from his predecessor. Uribe, who endorsed Zuluaga, despite both candidates having served in his cabinet, accused Santos of funding his 2012 presidential campaign with drug money. The allegations stemmed from an unverified claim that Santos’ campaign manager, famed Venezuelan political strategist Juan José Rendón, received $12 million from a drug lord to help negotiate the least-painful means of surrender to the United States government. Rendón resigned from his position on the campaign, a move Santos called “gallant,” and Venezuela–where Rendón’s conservative politics are anathema–began proceedings to extradite him over the claim.

With the defeat of the FARC the biggest issue of the campaign, Uribe has become a towering figure in the campaign, and many credit his support of Zuluaga with his impressive election results. Uribe, along with U.S. Special Forces CIA under the Bush administration, is credited with bringing American counterterrorism strategies to Colombia and crippling the terror group to the point that most FARC leaders have fled to Cuba, a U.S.-designated State Sponsor of Terrorism that has for decades harbored FARC members.

Sixty percent of Colombian voters abstained from voting during this round of elections, which adds to the pool of voters attracted to other candidates a significant population that must be persuaded to vote at all. Colombians return to the polls on June 15.