Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’s allies retained control of Congress in elections yesterday, bolstering his bid to secure a peace deal with Marxist guerrillas who have been fighting the state since the 1960s.
Santos’s U Party, the Liberal Party and the Radical Change Party, which all supported him during his first term, had won 92 out of 166 seats in the Lower House, and 47 of 102 seats in the Senate, with more than 98 percent of the votes counted. That’s enough for the government to get a peace deal through the Senate with the support of smaller parties, said Francisco Rodriguez, chief Andean economist at Bank of America.
“He’s probably in safe territory,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview from New York. “Even without getting the Conservatives on board, he’ll have enough support to do it.”
Santos said in December that a peace deal with rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will allow the economy to achieve “Asian” rates of growth. Polls show that Santos will win a second four-year term in presidential elections in May, beating Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, an ally of former President Alvaro Uribe, in a second round of voting.
The Conservative Party, which won 19 Senate seats, was part of Santos’s ruling coalition during his first four-year term, and is now split on the FARC talks, with some of its members siding with Uribe’s position. They will probably continue to support the government on economic policies, such as labor market and pension reforms, Rodriguez said.
The government’s control of Congress was weakened by the arrival of Uribe’s new Democratic Center Party, which won 12 seats in the Lower House and 19 in the Senate. Uribe, who himself won a Senate seat, opposes the negotiations with the guerrillas.
Uribe supported Santos’s run for President in 2010 and now attacks him repeatedly on Twitter and in interviews, accusing his former defense minister of squandering security gains made during his own presidency between 2002 and 2010. Yesterday’s election consolidates “Uribismo” as the country’s second political force, Rodriguez said.
The former president and his supporters oppose a deal that would give FARC leaders immunity for crimes, or which would allow them seats in Congress.
In the Senate, Santos’ U Party won 21 seats, while his Liberal Party allies won 17. The Radical Change Party, led by Santos’ running mate, German Vargas Lleras, obtained nine seats.
The Alternative Democratic Pole, which opposes free-trade agreements and demands that oil and mining companies pay higher royalties, won five seats, as did the Green Alliance Party.
Santos’s government tracked down and killed the FARC’s top two leaders during his first term, and wiped out dozens of its mid-level commanders, before starting peace negotiations with the group in 2012.
In an interview last September, Santos said that voters would back a deal containing unpopular measures such as the transformation of the FARC into a political party and special treatment in the justice system for crimes committed by guerrillas, as part of a package that ends the conflict.
In the Lower House, the Liberal Party won 39 seats, followed by 37 seats for Santos’s U Party and 27 seats for the Conservatives. Uribe’s Democratic Center won 12 seats.