The leftist leader, currently President of the Democratic Pole (Polo Democratico) opposition party, finished with 15.23% of the vote in May 25’s first round elections, just 0.3% shy of third-place Conservative Party (Partido Conservador) candidate Marta Lucia Ramirez and less than 10% behind Santos, who came in second.
“I want to announce that I am going to vote for peace in Colombia, in the form of the candidacy of Juan Manuel Santos,” said the former candidate. Santos is currently facing off against hardline right-wing candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga (Democratic Center — Centro Democratico) in the hotly contested build up to second round elections, which are expected to hinge largely on the issue of ongoing peace talks with the FARC rebel group, the country’s largest.
Lopez has consistently come out in favor of the talks, started under the Santos administration in November 2012, while Zuluaga has been a staunch opponent of the peace process. Though Zuluaga has recently moderated his position toward the talks, Lopez says there are still at least “nine points” that separate her stance from Zuluaga’s.
Zuluaga’s chief supporter, former President, current Senator-elect, and Democratic Center leader Alvaro Uribe, has been among Santos and the peace talks’ fiercest critics.
For peace, not Santos
Lopez made a point of emphasizing that a support of the peace talks does not equate to her support of the broader Santos platform, which she has repeatedly criticized.
“We’re not going to abandon our political agenda,” she said. “There’s no underlying agreement: what there is, simply, is a unilateral decision to vote and vote well. We will continue to wave our political banners.”
Her statement coincided with a Democratic Pole party platform announcement Lopez made following her defeat in first round elections. “We will continue defending and promoting our program, which does not coincide with that of the two candidates competing for the presidency next June 15, 2014, and will continue to maintain popular activism and support,” said Lopez.
|“There’s no underlying agreement: what there is, simply, is a unilateral decision to vote and vote well.|
A change in stance
The party previously appeared conflicted as to which direction to take heading into the June 15 runoff. Democratic Pole congressional leader Jorge Enrique Robledo had advocated that the left abstain from endorsing either candidate, and Lopez herself had encouraged supporters to vote “autonomously.”
Wednesday’s announcement, then, represents something of a change in posture for the leftist leader.
“All the [closest supporters] in the Democratic Pole who dream of a peaceful Colombia join me in [the decision to endorse Santos],” said Lopez. “There is no division, and we coincide in unanimity on a vote for peace.”
Lopez went on to explained the change in her stance, saying, “One must must take this as a moral dilemma; it is based on individual beliefs. One can’t guarantee the success of one or the other, but it is necessary to make a choice because what is at stake is a profound moral decision and peace.”
|“There is no division, and we coincide in unanimity on a vote for peace.”|
Consolidating the left
With Lopez’s endorsement, Santos appears to have solidified his backing among Colombia’s most prominent leftist leaders.
Lopez’s former running mate, Patriotic Union (Union Patriotica) leader Aida Avella, had previously come out in favor of the president, along with members of fellow left-wing political party, the Patriotic March (Marcha Patriotica).
Ivan Cepeda, another congressional leftist leader, joined Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro in making a similar announcement, sharing Lopez’s pragmatic, peace-first approach to the Santos endorsement. “I will vote,” he said, “for the peace process in Havana [,Cuba, where talks are currently being held] that this government built with the FARC.”
The 1.9 million votes won by Lopez in first round elections could prove decisive in the June 15 contest, given the low 40% turnout of the first round. Santos’ ability to mobilize the left, which remains hostile to his economic agenda, is considered crucial for his chances against Zuluaga, whose base lies in the hardline right-wing of the political spectrum.
Conservative Marta Lucia Ramirez, who finished third in first round elections, has endorsed Zuluaga, along with roughly half of the Conservative Party. Santos, however, managed to gain the support of another half of the Conservative Party’s congressional delegation.