Colombia’s former Vice-President German Vargas announced on Tuesday that he will join the 2018 presidential race without the support of his own party.
Vargas announced he will not run as a candidate for his Radical Change party but will instead seek to obtain the necessary signatures to get his name on the 2018 ballot paper as an independent candidate.
The most elitist of candidates
The grandson of President Alberto Lleras has been groomed for power since he was young and has been expected to run for president in the upcoming election for almost a decade.
This suspicion was confirmed when he resigned as vice-president in March just before the legal deadline imposed on public officials with electoral aspirations.
His run as an independent came to a surprise to many. However, there had been speculation for months that the former vice-president would opt for this route.
Vargas has been trying to disassociate himself from the Bogota elite politics that made him one of Colombia’s most important political barons.
Even as the vice-president of his long-time political ally, President Juan Manuel Santos, Vargas made an effort not to be associated with key government policies like the ongoing peace process with FARC and the economy.
Instead, he spent his seven years in the Santos administration cutting ribbons of major public housing and infrastructure projects in an apparent attempt to strengthen ties with regional electoral barons that could prove crucial in the elections.
Vargas joins candidates such as Clara Lopez, Sergio Fajardo, Gustavo Petro, Juan Carlos Pinzon, Piedad Cordoba and Alejandro Ordoñez, all of whom have opted to run without the support of an established political party.
A nine-year presidential campaign
Vargas stepped down as Vice President to Juan Manuel Santos in March to be allowed to run in the 2018 election, nine years after his first attempt in 2010.
Both Vargas and Santos used their vast network of political allies to support Uribe in the 2002 elections, both hoping to be taking over the leadership of the country at the end of Uribe’s term in 2006.
Uribe’s allies from the Antioquia province, however, successfully bribed Congress to allow a second term and the Bogota elitists were forced to wait another four years.
When Uribe sought a third term in 2010, Vargas’ Radical Change party broke with Uribe. The reelection attempt was struck down by the Constitutional Court and Vargas announced he would be competing against Santos, who in 2010 was seen as the heir of the hard-right president from Medellin.
Santos won the 2010 election and immediately invited Vargas and a number of other detractors from the 2002 Uribe camp to his administration, effectively isolating his former political ally and chief.
While Santos embarked on peace talks with the FARC, Vargas maintained a distance, carefully preventing being too closely associated with the process that, among other things, ultimately cost Santos much of his popular approval.
Vargas decided against running for president in 2014 when peace talks with the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC, were ongoing. Instead, he became Santos’ running mate.
As vice president, Vargas embarked on a controversy-free ribbon-cutting spree while steering clear of unpopular policies spearheaded by the current president, patiently awaiting his turn until the successful end of the peace talks.
The 2018 elections are the first to take place after the beginning of a peace process on December 1 last year and Vargas’ best chance to finally obtain the job he has worked towards for decades, President of Colombia.