Juan Manuel Santos was re-elected by a convincing margin in Colombia’s presidential election runoff on Sunday. With over 99% of the ballots counted, the centrist incumbent candidate won 50.9% of the vote, while his right-wing opponent Oscar Ivan Zuluaga claimed 45%.
Some pollsters had predicted victory for Zuluaga, who was backed by former President Alvaro Uribe, but the historic peace agreement that Santos recently agreed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels ultimately turned public opinion decisively in his favor.
After 18 months of negotiations with the FARC, Santos’s reelection could finally bring an end to the 50-year conflict that has claimed over 200,000 lives, whereas the hardline Zuluaga was opposed to continuing the peace talks.
Sunday’s runoff election marked the end of one of Colombia’s narrowest and dirtiest elections in years. Zuluaga won 29% of ballots to Santos’ 25% in the first-round vote in May, and former President Uribe, who is thought to have masterminded Zuluaga’s campaign, continued to allege widespread voting fraud by Santos’ team right up to the closing of polls.
Santos, who studied economics at the University of Kansas and served in three presidential cabinets prior to first becoming president in 2010, received the backing of 80 top business leaders last week as he announced exploratory peace talks with the National Liberation Army, another smaller rebel group.
Since assuming office, Santos has improved Colombia’s ties with the leftist governments of neighboring Venezuela and Ecuador, in contrast to his predecessor Uribe, who proved a more confrontational figure during his tenure from 2002 to 2010.
Santos’ share of the vote has fallen from the 69% he won in 2010 and this may reflect concerns that he has taken a softer stance against rebels, but many voters were even warier of electing Zuluaga because of his close ties to Uribe, whose U.S.-backed administration cracked down hard on the FARC but was marred by widespread allegations of human rights abuses.