Whoever becomes Colombia’s next president will face significant challenges, including the monumental job of guiding a divided population into a new era of peace.
Colombia’s presidential elections, set to take place in the summer of 2018, the country’s first since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement in Havana, will be a test of Colombians’ acceptance of both the peace process and of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group’s transition into politics. Although the Colombian people have longed for an era of peace, the process that finally ended five decades of conflict significantly polarized the country, both socially and politically.
On January 29, President Juan Manuel Santos suspended peace talks with the left-wing National Liberation Army rebels following recent bombings that left seven policemen dead and injured 47 civilians. If Colombia wishes to maintain social and political stability, the next president will have to tread carefully between a passionate electoral base opposed to the peace agreement and a population that seeks healing through reconciliation.
The 2018 elections will be the first to include the newly baptized Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, formed from the demobilized FARC. Former FARC commander Rodrigo Londoño’s candidacy for president will also be the first time in over 50 years that Colombians will engage with FARC actors in a political, rather than insurgent, capacity.
Colombians have mixed feelings about the peace agreement negotiated by President Santos, and they initially rejected the Havana accord in a popular referendum in 2016. This was as much a testament to how out of touch Santos is with the Colombian public as to popular concerns with the peace agreement itself. As a result, there is little public support for candidates who actively favor the Havana agreement, now so closely associated with the unpopular Santos. Unsurprisingly, no candidate wants the peacemaker’s endorsement.