The mandate that Colombian centre-right President Juan Manuel Santos won on Sunday for a second term is bound to trigger huge expectations from among the mainstream left parties that backed, with good reason, his re-election. The peace negotiations that the President has held in the past four years with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), with support from Cuba, have progressed to some degree. Mr. Santos’s government and the FARC have reached an agreement to promote agrarian reform, facilitate political participation for members of the militia, and to sever links with the drug mafia. But nothing less than a decisive end to the country’s 50-year old civil war, that has killed over 200,000 people and displaced millions, could ensure stability and security in this Andean country. In fact, the conflict in Colombia is viewed widely as the longest in recent memory and the displacement of people, the largest until the recent tragic developments in Syria. But justice for the victims and the demobilisation of the FARC remain contentious issues in the negotiations. The President’s pursuit of peace with an extremist insurgency had pitted him against the conservative party of two-term President Alfaro Uribe, which denounced the peace process as little more than one granting impunity for terrorists. His right-wing challenger in the recent polls, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, topped in the first round although the margin was not good enough to avoid a run-off. The surge in support for Mr. Santos in Sunday’s run-off was reminiscent of the 2002 French presidential election that saw the left and centrist rally behind Jacques Chirac’s UMP party.
Mr. Santos’s own record in dealing with public officials, a large number of whom are linked with paramilitary groups and organised crime, has strengthened the perception of him as a leader who was not particularly effective, even if guided by the best of intentions. A controversial recent decision relates to his endorsement of the ouster of the Mayor of Bogota, a senior directly elected politician, and a prolonged bar on his standing for public office. Indeed, Amnesty International observed recently that peace talks have had little influence in preventing large-scale human rights violations in the country. Colombia has emerged in recent years as the third largest economy in Latin America. Sustaining the benefits of economic growth would be inconceivable in the absence of genuine adherence to the values of a free and democratic order underpinned by the rule of law and respect for human rights. Mr. Santos can ill-afford to fritter away the advantage of a decisive mandate, one that could potentially transform the prospects of the people of Colombia.