Presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos has repeatedly stated that he wishes to form a government of national unity. While remaining as skeptical about Santos as I am about any politician on the campaign trail, I really like the sound of this.
So far, Santos and the other prominent member of his party have never seemed to care much about creating any unity whatsoever. Outspoken congressmen like Armando Benedetti or Roy Barreras are more famous for their fanatical defense of the interests of the “Uribistas” and their sponsors than for seeking to build bridges with those who think differently.
Santos himself was always been considered a hard-liner within the Uribe government due to his never-ending clashes and aggressive rhetoric towards Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. However, Santos’ tone changed when the country seemed to be leaning towards the more moderate Antanas Mockus, who for a time overtook the Uribista candidate in the opinion polls.
But even after a surprising and convincing victory in the first round, with Santos only a few percent away from winning outright, he did not change his tone. Instead, calling for national unity, he invited all other parties to join his campaign and the government coalition he would construct after winning the second round. He even expressed a wish that members of Mockus’ Green Party would join this coalition.
I don’t think that Santos had to do this in order to win the second round. The parties that took part in Uribe’s 2006-2010 coalition maintained a solid majority in Congress after the March elections, and considering the first round results (46.5% for Santos against 21.5% for Mockus), it is virtually impossible for Santos to lose.
Politically, Santos’ call for a government of national unity does make sense. On the ideological right of his Social Party of National Unity is only the PIN, a political party so close to corrupt politicians and drug lords that it is not a viable coalition partner. This means that to form coalitions, Santos must look to the left.
Also, if his call for national unity is heard and convinces moderate voters to choose him, the chances are bigger of a landslide victory. This would give Santos as president a large enough popular base that he wouldn’t need to give many concessions to other parties in the new coalition. In this case there would not be much national unity, just the dominance of the Social Party of National Unity.
But assuming that Santos is serious, a government of national unity in my opinion is a great idea.
Uribe’s two governments had great success with their “democratic security” policy, which pushed the FARC out of Colombia’s largest cities and encouraged foreign investment, but saw themselves isolated in Latin America, heavily criticized over human rights violations by groups in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and, despite a growing economy, were not able to reduce poverty or create jobs.
Moreover, after eight years of Uribe, the country finds itself polarized; student movements are radicalizing, indigenous movements feel ignored and excluded, and the judicial branch is fiercely defending its independence against verbal and legislative attacks from both the government and Congress.
A more broadly oriented government would be able to avoid these divisions and pitfalls better than Uribe.
As Santos is not expected to change much about the armed forces, we can be pretty certain that the military fight against the FARC and the protection of foreign investment are guaranteed. And if Santos is able to attract quality ministers from other political camps, like the Liberal Party, the Green Party and even Polo Democratico, instead of granting jobs as political favors, the new president will be able to push Colombia beyond what Uribe has already accomplished.
Because if Colombia now is able to consolidate its progress on security and foreign investment and can add to this socio-economic successes and more healthy relations between the branches of power, Uribe’s eight years really will have been a success.