BOGOTA, Colombia – He presides over one of Latin America’s fastest-growing economies and has taken peace negotiations with Marxist rebels further than anyone in decades.
But President Juan Manuel Santos doesn’t appear to be clicking with Colombian voters, who haven’t felt the benefits of the economic boom and are preoccupied with more mundane concerns than they are the still dubious prospects for an end to a half-century of guerrilla violence.
Fatigue with Santos’ rule was evident Sunday as a near-record 60 percent of eligible voters stayed home. Those who did cast ballots went overwhelmingly for the president’s rivals. Former finance minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga finished atop the five-candidate field with 29 percent, setting up a June 15 runoff with Santos, who won 26 percent.
Despite the setback, Santos is showing no signs of rethinking his electoral strategy focused on an 18-month effort to end Colombia’s rebel conflict.
Speaking to supporters Sunday night, he framed the contest against Zuluaga, the conservative protégé of former President Alvaro Uribe, as a battle between “hope and fear.”
“The choice is between those of us who want to put an end to the war and those who want a war without end,” Santos, 62, told supporters in Bogota, who responded with shouts of “Peace for Colombia!”
To pick up the roughly 500,000 votes separating him from Zuluaga, the president is counting on the support of Colombia’s left, about the only ones in the traditionally conservative country who have embraced his peace plan.
In the final days of campaigning, Santos picked up the endorsement of Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla.