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On Colombia’s first presidential election: In the shadow of FARC (Relevant for GS Prelims, GS Mains Paper II; IOBR)

Election outcome in Colombia
Colombia’s first presidential election since the landmark 2016 peace deal with the FARC Marxist guerrillas has thrown up the youngest winner in its history. But the victory of the 41-year-old right-wing candidate, Iván Duque, raises questions for the future of the agreement negotiated by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning outgoing President, Juan Manuel Santos. Mr. Duque, a relative political novice, beat his rival, Gustavo Petro, an erstwhile insurgent, by a 12-percentage point margin.

What are the possible implications?
Mr. Duque’s victory is likely to help the conservatives further consolidate their gains in the Congress, where the centrists led by Mr. Santos remain weakened. Mr. Duque’s decade-long work experience with the Inter-American Development Bank perhaps partly explains his programme of economic orthodoxy — to cut corporate taxes and create a conducive climate for investment in the oil sector. A protégé of the conservative former President Álvaro Uribe, Mr. Duque can count on backing from his mentor’s Democratic Centre party.

What are the concerns?
There is some concern, however, that the veteran politician could exert undue influence. This is especially so because Mr. Duque, like many on the political right, has been sceptical of the peace agreement with the rebels, and Mr. Uribe had actively opposed the referendum on the deal. The grant of amnesty to the extremists and codified guarantees of representation in the Congress, to ensure a smooth passage into the political mainstream, have proved the most contentious provisions. As President, Mr. Duque may be more disposed to adopting a moderate stance.

The outcome in the run-off was not surprising given the steady marginalisation of centrist forces, leaving the field open to the extremes. In March, the contender from the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force(FARC), the rebel movement refashioned as a political party with a name that retains its former acronym, quit the presidential race. After violent attacks on its candidates, it had suspended its campaign for the Congressional election. The FARC’s withdrawal from the contest marked a setback for the central plank of the peace process — the rebels’ right to run for public office in return for the surrender of arms. It also illustrates the tenuous nature of the accord overall, as the judicial and other mechanisms to advance its objectives are still not in place. A return to civil peace after a protracted conflict, in which hundreds of thousands were killed and many more displaced, is a painstaking process that, above all, calls for firm moral and political conviction.

The legacy Mr. Santos leaves behind is the courage he mustered to clinch the controversial peace accord with the perpetrators of the worst brutalities for half a century. Mr. Duque, who assumes office in August, will be judged in terms of the distance he can travel to make the Colombian dream an enduring reality.

(Adapted from The Hindu)



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