Voter turnout key to Colombian elections

Almost 20 million people failed to vote in the first round of Colombia’s presidential elections on Sunday.

Almost 20 million people failed to vote in the first round of Colombia’s presidential elections on Sunday.

BOGOTA - Candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga beat out incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos in the first round of voting in Colombia’s elections Sunday amid wire-tapping scandals, email hacking accusations and some 20 million Colombians failing to vote.

With an estimated 33 million people eligible to vote in Colombia, Sunday’s elections displayed the lowest voter turnout in 20 years. Roughly 41 percent of Colombians voted meaning that six from every ten eligible voters preferred not to opine on the outcome of Colombia’s presidential elections.

“The recent scandals and the litigious nature of politics are reflected in that people no longer believe in the process and they stayed away from the voting tables,” said political analyst Pedro Medellin in an interview to El Tiempo newspaper.

Between them, the Democratic Center’s Oscar Ivan Zuluaga and second placed President Juan Manuel Santos, of the National Party of Social Unity, achieved some 7 million votes. Oscar Ivan Zuluaga took 29.3 percent (3.76 million) of the vote to President Juan Manuel Santos' 25.7 percent  (3.3 million). 

Oscar Ivan Zuluaga and President Juan Manuel Santos, who are set for the final round of voting on June 15, will now be in negotiations with the other candidates to strike up alliances.

To prevent such a runoff a winner was  required to win 51 percent of the votes in the first round. 

Oscar Ivan Zuluaga is already reported to have spoken to Marta Lucia Ramirez of the Conservative Party who came in third with over 2 million votes or 15.5 percent of the total vote.

Leftist candidate Clara Lopez of the Democratic Pole received slightly less than her conservative rival but pundits expect her 2 million votes, 15.2 percent, to go to President Santos.

“The electorate is bored of the in-fighting and it’s evident that there is a major disconnect between the candidates and what voters want to hear: education, jobs and health,” said political analyst Marcela Prieto in an interview to El Tiempo.

Since Oscar Ivan Zuluaga has declared that he is prepared to suspend the peace dialogues between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC guerrillas) and the government from August 7 if he is elected president, this second round is now being billed as the choice between war and peace in the media.

“This is a country which believes in violence,” said Monica Cabarca a consultant in social prosperity for the International Organization for Migration.  

The second round of elections will place the on-going peace dialogues between the FARC and the government of President Santos under much scrutiny. These dialogues began in 2012 and have been addressing various issues, most recently how to address the situation of illegal drugs in Colombia. Both the FARC and ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrilla groups have agreed to a ceasefire for the duration of the election period.

“The electorate has made these elections as the politics of war by choosing Oscar Ivan Zuluaga in the first round. The first casualty will be peace,” said Dr Silvia Mantilla, a political science teacher at the National University in Bogota.

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