Upcoming Presidential Elections in Colombia: A key/puzzle for the long, lasting, and stable Peace – Latin American Elections Series

The peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC[1], signed in 2016, was the biggest achievement of the Nobel Laureate and current president of Colombia: Juan Manuel Santos.  By the 7th of August the presidential period ends, and Santos must leave the Casa de Nariño[2] after 8 years of governing.  The next 27th May will be decisive to the post-conflict situation in the country, on that day Colombians will elect the new president.

Recently, on 11th March 2018, Colombians faced the first legislative elections in peace after more than 50 years of violent conflict. The results of those elections favored the right-wing- parties, while some of the center and left parties lost sits. The recently formed FARC (political party) did not receive a relevant number of votes, but, as part of the Peace Agreement, they were guaranteed with ten sits in the Congress and the Parliament.

Jean Arnault, chief of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia, said the Peace Agreement had achieved, until the moment of the Parliamentary elections, a notable reduction of violence during the process. Despite the history of political polarization, the presidential candidate´s campaign has shown a tendency towards a reduction of electoral violence (UN News, 2018).

Now, the country is in the race for the presidential elections with five candidates: Sergio Fajardo, Gustavo Petro, Humberto de la Calle, Germán Vargas Lleras and Ivan Duque.

The recent surveys have shown two lead candidates: Gustavo Petro (left-wing) and Ivan Duque (right-wing). Petro has a political program and discourse based on the idea of being an alternative option to the traditional politicians and the establishment. While his counterpart, Duque has made the economy his priority and has been widely supported by the Alvaro Uribe, former president of Colombia. This situation is a clear signal of the traditional political polarization in the Colombian society (El país, 2018).

All candidates, except Ivan Duque, have shown their support to the Peace agreement. Duque has expressed his intention to make amendments and reforms to the Peace Agreement, despite the threat it poses to the agreement itself. During a debate held by “El Tiempo”[3] Petro refused to answer the question regarding the reforms of the Agreement, while Duque assured that he would modify all the elements that, from his perspective, are threatening the Colombian institutionalism. He mentioned he will present a reform to remove drug-trafficking, in every situation[4], as a reason for amnesty. Also, has established that the agreements must contemplate the eradication of illicit crops as mandatory and not voluntary. He wants to prevent the responsible of crimes against humanity to achieve a position in the Congress without paying a condemn.

Meanwhile, Germán Vargas Lleras (center-right), former vice president of the country, stated that he will fight against the dissident groups that are still committing and drug-dealing in the country. He will confront them with all the military capacity of the State against these new criminal groups. On the Other hand, Humberto de La Calle, who was one of the leaders of the Peace negotiations in the Havana, Cuba, compromised to fulfill with the Peace Agreement. He affirms that the Peace Agreement is an opportunity for Colombia to achieve development.

Lastly, Sergio Fajardo agrees with the Pact and is committed to its implementation. To Fajardo, the institution responsible for establishing the boundaries and limits of the Agreement is the Constitutional Court. This court, also, must guarantee that all decisions derived from the agreement are aligned with the Colombian Constitution. In the implementation process, Fajardo has assured he will focus on the Reconciliation and will incorporate most sectors of the society.

The post-conflict situation in Colombia has involved multiple actors and parties. As many conflict scholars and researchers have pointed out, some interest groups might act as spoilers to the process of negotiating an end to the conflict, as it disturbs their own interests (Macartan, 2005). This is the clear situation in Colombia, as the long-lasting conflict have widely benefited multiple parties. That is why during these elections there are more interests on the table than those benefiting the Colombian society.

The director of the Observatory of Political Representation, Yann Basset had stated that an eventual presidency of Ivan Duque could be problematic to generate the structural changes needed to accomplish with the agreements. Especially regarding the electoral and agrarian reforms, considered key to fighting against inequality in Colombia. In the same direction, Ariel Ávila, sub-director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation, have said that the election of this candidate could result in a political obstruction to the Peace Agreements, as the reformation of the Agreement can slow down the process of financing the Special Jurisdiction for Peace[5], responsible for judging the perpetrators of Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes. (Abramovich, 2018)

Most of scholars and politicians agree that reforms and amendments could result in a delayed in the process of building a long, lasting peace, and a loss of credibility to the Colombian government. Ernesto Samper, former president and supporter of the Peace Agreement, said that is up to the elected president to choose to reform or not the accord. However, states that those changes can dislocate the Agreement, mainly if the reforms are related to the political participation of the former guerilla’s leaders.



The Candidates Proposals regarding the Peace in Colombia:

  • Sergio Fajardo: He supports the Peace Agreement, and he focuses on the accomplishment of the Victims and Land Restitution Law. He is especially interested in the education of the reintegrated former guerrilla members and their families. He wants to focus on the development and strengthening of the Agricultural sector to improve Colombians rural life. He will create a program focused on civil culture to achieve the peaceful coexistence and reconciliation (Fajardo Presidente, 2018)
  • Humberto de La Calle: He proposes the creation of a number between 500.000 and 1 million of jobs in the first years, especially in the areas affected by the Colombian conflict. The social service after high school will be mandatory to help the sectors in need. He will create an employment program for the young and people over 55 years old. He will reinforce the military forces and the police services(De la Calle Presidente, 2018).
  • Gustavo Petro: This candidate will respect the Peace Agreement and will commit to it as it is currently. However, to Petro the peace goes beyond the Accords; that is why he proposes to follow a path of reforms in the sectors of education, health, and agriculture. One of his most polemic proposals is to implement a tax to the “unproductive large state” to discourage the possession of lands with no productive goals. This is also part of a strategy related to achieving an equal distribution of the land (one of the main factors in dispute during the war) (Petro Presidente, 2018).
  • Ivan Duque: The candidate proposes to reform the Agreements to avoid the disruption of the Institutionalism and the law in Colombia. According to the candidate, most of the agreements are not aligned with the Colombian Constitution. He proposes to amend, at least, two main points of the Accord. First, drug-trafficking as a crime related to political felonies. Second, he will reform the Especial Jurisdiction for Peace to incorporate imprisonment to the former guerrilla members, despite their testimonies have contributed to the truth and reparation of the victims (Duque, 2018).
  • Germán Vargas Lleras: at first, this candidate was against some points of the agreement. However, he has settled and stated that the Court should define if the accords are or not aligned with the Colombian Constitution. He will engage in the fulfillment of the agreements. However, Vargas Lleras has said that if elected the probabilities of leaving the negotiations with the ELN[6], the last guerrilla in combat in Colombia, are really high (Mejor Vargas Lleras, 2018).

As argued along this article, the elections in Colombia are a crucial element to keep in the path to achieve a long, lasting, and stable peace. This long and weathered sentence is meaningful for Colombian society because it means the opportunity to focus political, social, and economic efforts in solving other problems of the country. For the first time, after more than 60 years of war, the Colombian society can turn their heads and seek for solutions to other issues, besides the war against FARC.

Macartan, H. (2005). Natural Resources, Conflict and Conflict Resolution: Uncovering the mechanisms. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 49(4), 508-537.

UN News. (19 de 04 de 2018). UN Mission chief calls Colombia’s congressional elections ‘a clear step forward’ in peace process. Retrieved from UN News: https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/04/1007712

El país. (13 de 03 de 2018). Unas elecciones en paz. Retrieved the 01 – 05 – 2018, from El País: https://elpais.com/elpais/2018/03/12/opinion/1520875746_543780.html

Abramovich, E. (18 de 04 de 2018). Implementación de la paz, tema que divide en la carrera presidencial. Retrieved the 01 – 05 – 2018, from El Tiempo: http://www.eltiempo.com/elecciones-colombia-2018/presidenciales/propuestas-de-candidatos-presidenciales-sobre-implementacion-del-acuerdo-de-paz-201026

Fajardo Presidente. (2018). Construcción de paz. Retrieved the 01 – 05 – 2018, from Fajardo Presidente: http://sergiofajardo.co/2018/04/reconciliacion/

De la Calle Presidente. (2018). La paz en marcha. Retrieved the 01 – 05 – 2018, from De la Calle Presidente: https://www.humbertodelacalle.co/_la_paz_en_marcha

Petro Presidente. (2018). Programa. Retrieved the 01 – 05 – 2018, from Petro Presidente: https://petro.com.co/

Duque. (2018). Propuestas. Retrieved the 01 – 05 – 2018, from Duque: https://www.ivanduque.com/

Mejor Vargas Lleras. (2018). Propuestas. Retrieved the 01 – 05 – 2018, from Mejor Vargas Lleras: https://www.mejorvargaslleras.com/


[1] Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia

[2] White House equivalent in Colombia

[3] Publishing house, owner of one of the most popular newspapers in Colombia

[4] The agreements consider amnesty for those who have been related to drug-trafficking when the profits were used strictly to the political fight.

[5] Jurisdicción Especial para la Paz (JEP)

[6] Ejercito de Liberación Nacional / National Liberation Army

Follow Camila Pieschacon, Angel Trujillo and Johana Botia:

Camila Pieschacón is an anthropologist from the Rosario University in Bogotá, Colombia. She is a first-year student at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, following the track in Conflict Studies and Management. Currently, she works in education in the private sector. She has worked as a research assistant, assistant professor, and as a consultant. Her areas of interest are public health, gender, education, and post-conflict.                                                                                                       Ángel Peñaranda holds a Bachelor degree in Politics and International Relations from the Sergio Arboleda University in Bogotá, Colombia. He is a first-year student of the MPP program at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy, in the Conflict Studies and Management track. He has experience working in the private sector and political marketing. His main interests are environmental policies, urban planning, and political marketing.                                                                                   Johana Botia Díaz is a second-year student from the MPP with the area of concentration in Conflict Studies and Management. She holds a bachelor in Economics from Universidad Industrial de Santander, Colombia. Her research areas of interest are: women empowerment, peacebuilding, labor market and social reintegration of former rebels and conflict victims. She is a scholarship holder of the DAAD Public Policy and Good Governance Helmut-Schmidt-Programm.