Plasticine dolls in place of Colombian presidential candidates and at a debate on women's issues

Colombia at crossroads in electing a new President

As Colombians headed to the polls this Sunday, 27th May, to vote in the Presidential elections, the internationally recognised peace agreement signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in late 2016, hangs in the balance.

This agreement has the potential to put an end to more than 60 years of conflict, which left 8 million victims, including 7 million displaced people, the highest in the world.

Yet Colombian society remains polarised over the peace process, with many Colombians frustrated at its slow pace of implementation. These are perhaps the most important Presidential elections in decades. Depending on who is elected this weekend, Colombia could benefit from a fresh push for the implementation of the peace agreement and the wider peace process. However, in the event of an opponent of the agreement being elected, the country could potentially sink into a new spiral of violence.

Three of the candidates, Gustavo Petro, Sergio Fajardo and Humberto De la Calle, are fully supportive of the peace process. However, two other candidates Ivan Duque, who is the current front-runner and Germán Vargas Lleras have said that they will revise the agreement should they be elected. Pictured above, represented as mannequins at a recent event ‘Presidential Forum 2018’ which gave Colombian women the opportunity to ask questions and listen to the presidential candidates' proposals and commitments towards women and gender issues.  

Any attempt to roll back the peace agreement would be a dangerous regression. Since the agreement was signed, the FARC have gone from being an illegal armed group to a political party seeking to pursue their objectives through democratic means. The peace agreement, were it to be implemented effectively, has the potential to tackle the legacy of violence and discrimination that have left millions marginalised and living in poverty.

However, many remain suspicious of the newly formed political party, with historical wounds still running deep in Colombia. While some former FARC members opposed to the peace deal, have refused to lay down arms, and remain a threat to the stability of the country.

Humberto De La Calle, Colombian presidential candidate 2018

Colombian presidential candidate, Humberto De la Calle, at a recent event ‘Presidential Forum 2018’ which gave Colombian women the opportunity to ask questions and listen to the presidential candidates' proposals and commitments towards women and gender issues. Photo credit: Red National de Mujeres

Right-wing candidate Ivan Duque, currently leads the polls and his hard line against the FARC and his ability to tap into high levels of dissatisfaction with the peace agreement may sway those who remain sceptical of the accords and what have been seen by some as unfulfilled promises.

Christian Aid have been supporting Colombian civil society groups pressing for quicker implementation of the peace agreement. But there has been little progress in the key areas of land reform, and access to the much-lauded transitional justice system. Similarly, greater access to public services for Colombia’s large indigenous and black communities has failed to materialise, leaving these groups increasingly marginalised. 

Instead, the Government is increasingly perceived by some as failing to deliver on electoral promises and of failing to consult with those most affected by the legacy of violence, fuelling the sense of frustration among ordinary Colombians.

Crucial to civil society efforts, organisations like ABColombia, have been pressing for the dismantling of paramilitary groups. Historically, these groups have worked in collusion with parts of the armed forces, the police and the military and evidence suggest that these links still exist. Achieving sustainable peace in Colombia will be difficult if these sorts of collaborations are allowed to continue.

The peace agreement has been strongly supported by the international community, including by former Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, the current EU Special Envoy for the Colombian Peace Process.  The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has also recently announced that it will open an Embassy in Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, with the remit of underpinning Ireland’s support for the peace process. Despite this, concerns over its implementation have always existed. The Colombian Government must implement these much-promised reforms and those who have suffered the most have to start to feel the positive effects of this momentous agreement, otherwise those opposed to the peace process stand a better chance of being elected and the most vulnerable in society will continue to suffer.

The results of this election are crucial, and it will be up to Colombian society to determine through their votes the long-term survival or not of the peace process.

By Thomas Mortensen, Colombia Country manager (with additional edits by, Jennifer Higgins, Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Christian Aid Ireland.)