We speak to some experts about the impact the new president might have on the country going forward.
The new president of Colombia will take office in August after winning 54% in the second round, becoming the youngest president in over a century. So, what can we expect from the new president elect?
Iván Duque enjoys a strong support in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, which will make it easier for him to push through laws and reforms.
After what was a particularly divisive final round between the firebrand left and staunch right, Duque called an end to hatred in his victory speech, seeking to unite the country against the common cause of corruption. “I will unite the country and govern against corruption,” he said.
The issue on the minds of many as they consider the new presidency is peace. The Centro Democrático candidate rose to fame as one of the leaders of the ‘No’ campaign during the 2016 referendum on the FARC Peace Deal and he has been particularly vocal on the topic of impunity.
Given the implementation challenges currently faced by a president who staked his name on bringing peace to Colombia, even if Duque does not manage to unpick parts of the complex agreement, the fear is that at best, it will now stagnate. In addition, if the former fighters do not feel that the government is keeping its side of the bargain, and do not feel that the president is supporting them; the risk is that more will join the 1,000 dissident fighters that have already signed up to other armed groups.
In the short term, the Sergio Arboleda-educated lawyer has allayed market fears of a more unpredictable Petro presidency. But a senior figure from the ministry of finance told us that the longer term is less certain. He says that the first two issues for the President will be to set out the development plan for the next four years – something that will obviously involve many steps – and implementing tax reform.
“A very important decision that needs to be taken in the short term is tax reform. We know that Colombia cannot continue to grow and sustain itself with the current scheme,” he said. And it is here that the new president may run into difficulties, because those who have helped him come into power will not support the necessary reforms: “The impact of the strong political commitments that he has cannot be undermined, these will create significant tensions that he inevitably will have to deal with.”
The election result will come as a blow for those who have pushed through progressive reforms on topics like same sex adoption, gay marriage and abortion in recent years. As Jean Marie Chenou, Senior Professor at Universidad de los Andes put it, “Duque represents a conservative project and is surrounded by extremely conservative people. His victory would be worrying for the LGBTI community (‘non-heterosexuals’ as Uribe infamously put it), AfroColombians, indigenous people and other minorities.”
He adds that this is not a uniquely Colombian problem, “It is a global trend toward more conservatism, as illustrated by Trump or the far-right parties winning elections in other contexts, and Colombia would be no exception.”
The former president’s influence on Colombian politics may be waning slightly, but as the presidential and senatorial elections demonstrated, he is still a force to be reckoned with. Iván Duque’s success will mean that the various investigations into accusations against Uribe – particularly concerning the parapolitica scandal – are unlikely to progress.
The parapolitica refers to the president’s connections to paramilitary actions throughout the 80s and 90s and encompasses the involvement of paramilitaries in politics, his alleged involvement in the La Granja, El Aro, y San Roque massacres, and connections to the cases of false positives during his presidency.
State of the nation
Duque takes presidency of what can be dubbed a ‘New Colombia’ – one that in recent years has opened its doors to the world, with more international visitors than ever. While there are many problems, the economy is recovering from the oil-induced slump, and is expected to grow by 2.7%.
Over the past 16 years, the number of people living below the poverty line has declined dramatically. According to figures from the national department of statistics, DANE, income-based poverty has fallen from around 50% in 2002 to 26.9% in 2016. The percentage of those living in extreme poverty is down to 7.4%.
With many challenges – such as crime, the ongoing conflict with the ELN, the issue of illicit coca cultivation, Venezuelan migration, a continued rich-poor divide and the violence against social activists – Iván Duque will take the helm at a time of both unprecedented opportunities and perhaps also unprecedented challenges.
Additional reporting by Thomas Stewart-Walvin and Santiago Barco.