Colombia's chance of peace at stake if voters reject Santos

Joseph Tulchin:

What results do you expect to see for the June 15th 2014 run-off in the Colombian presidential election?

Elisabeth Ungar Bleier:

It’s very difficult to say – again its very uncertain in terms of what the result will be because a lot of factors are playing a role. Just now, both President Santos and presidential candidate Zuluaga are meeting with the other candidates to see how they would decide. And finally, there was an enormous abstention – much higher than the historical median, that is we had 60% abstention, which is very high for presidential elections. The median had been 50% or less, which is also very high, but 60% is extremely worrying data.

Joe Tulchin:

Do you think the President can mobilise some of those people who stayed at home for the first round?

Elisabeth Ungar Bleier:

I think he will have to. Definitely he will have to do so. And this brings me to another point that has to do with the issues at stake, during the elections and certainly in the coming years, and this has to be necessarily and absolutely the peace talks in Havana. And the possibility in the country to start a post-conflict era in order to overcome more than 50 years of guerrilla violence in the country.

And that is the big issue of the campaign. And President Santos will have to ‘sell’ in a very proactive, and a very creative and attractive manner, the benefits that the peace talks and the post-conflict will bring to the country.

I was very surprised when candidate Zuluaga, much sooner than expected, – it’s the timing issue that surprised me – that one day after the election he announced he would suspend the talks in Havana. I thought, and many people thought, he would do that but not absolutely the next day after the elections.

So this shows that he and the Centro Democratico, the party that is supporting Zuluaga, are absolutely determined to stop – either definitely or temporarily – the peace talks.

Joe Tulchin:

That really surprises me at least, and many observers from outside Colombia. We can’t imagine stopping the talks and going back to a level of hostilities in which the guerrillas have been going for 50 years now. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of armed guerilla warfare in Colombia.

Elisabeth Ungar Bleier:

Yes, it is very surprising. And in the different approaches that have taken place in the past, many, many years since ex-President Belisario Betancur Cuartas, this is the time that the government and guerrilla have come the farthest in terms of getting important agreements, but agreements on issues that are in the basis of the conflict. That is to say, the issue of land reform, political and social participation – because it not only deals with electoral participation, but also social participation and citizen participation and the decision-making process at the local and national level - and also drug trafficking.

So we have come the farthest ever, and, in my opinion, it would be an enormous loss and an opportunity lost for the country if the government, the state and the Colombian society doesn’t take advantage of this.

Joe Tulchin:

Well I think we agree, you and I. Let’s see what the Colombian voters have to say.

Thank you very much. We’ve been talking to Elisabeth Ungar Bleier, political scientist in Colombia and President of Transparency Colombia.

(Photo credit: dpa)