2018 Colombian presidential race kicks off

By Laura Sharkey March 8, 2017
Germán Vargas Lleras, Colombia presidential campaign, Colombian presidency

Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras announced that he will step down on March 14 to focus on the presidential campaign.

Bid for the Colombian presidency generates speculation, as Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras steps down to focus on his campaign.

On March 2, with 15 months to go until the presidential elections on May 27 next year, Vice President Germán Vargas Lleras announced that he will step down on March 14 to focus on the presidential campaign.

Vargas Lleras, a lawyer by profession, is no stranger to the political sphere, he has been minister of housing, interior minister and served as a senator from 1994 to 1998. The former lawyer also ran unsuccessfully in the 2010 presidential race.

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He joined his current party, Cambio Radical, in 2003 and became its director in 2004. Vargas Lleras has been the victim of at least two assassination attempts, both of which were attributed to the FARC but this has not been confirmed.

Little is known about Vargas Lleras’ campaign agenda, but he is likely to focus on strengthening public services, housing programmes and infrastructure. Nor are there any concrete confirmations as to who will run against him. This should change in the coming months, as ministers who aspire to the presidency are required to resign a year before the election.

So who are the other likely contenders for the 2018 Colombian presidency? Let’s have a look at the parties and potential candidates:

Partido de la U: The centre-right Partido de la U, Colombia’s biggest, is led by President Juan Manuel Santos. None of its members have announced their intention to run in 2018 but popular figures include Senator Roy Barreras who was an integral part of the Havana peace talks with the FARC, and Juan Carlos Pinzón, former defence minister and current ambassador to Washington.

Partido Liberal: The centre-left liberal party has long been influential. Possible hopefuls include peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle and Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo. Neither have formally announced their intention to run.

Centro Democrático: Founded by former president Álvaro Uribe in 2013, the right-wing Centro Democrático is the main opposition party. The most talked about potential candidate is former senator and Pensilvania mayor Óscar Iván Zuluaga, though his name has recently been tarnished by corruption scandals, and the party may seek to put forward a fresh face – possible names include Senator Iván Duque and diplomat Carlos Holmes Trujillo.

Partido Conservador: The traditional conservative party, centre-right, is the second biggest party in congress. Disgraced former Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez and current Housing Minister Mauricio Cardenas have been tipped as potential candidates in 2018, but at this point, this remains speculative.

Partido Verde: Claudia López is already making noises for the leftist Green Party with a push to fight corruption. She announced her pre-candidacy last December and is currently one of the most popular candidates.

Polo Democrático: Senator Jorge Robledo has been this leftist party’s confirmed candidate since October 2016, but not without controversy. Current employment minister and party president Clara López said the party is splitting and the two are likely to battle it out for the nomination.

The list of potential candidates for the Colombian presidency is almost endless. Even figures like former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro have been the subject of media speculation as to their presidential ambitions. The likely victor is even less easy to predict. In the latest Gallup poll, released on 2 March, Humberto de la Calle and Clara López had the highest approval ratings, while Vargas Lleras is certainly disadvantaged by his association with the current government which has been plagued by corruption scandals. Anything seems possible at the moment; Colombia may follow the regional example and turn away from the status quo in what is sure to be a tense, exciting and lengthy bid for the top.