With less than three weeks to Colombia’s May 30 presidential election, the incumbent candidate Juan Manuel Santos has recovered lost ground and the surprise hopeful Antanas Mockus with his “green tide” has fallen back with opinion polls showing a technical draw.
Juan Manuel Santos now stands with 35% of vote intention (up from 29%) while Antanas Mockus has 34%—after having reached 38%—according to the latest poll published by the respected weekly La Semana. However, the Santos team is again optimistic since, although Mockus is stronger in the capital Bogotá, smaller cities and rural areas are overwhelmingly in support of the incumbent, seen as the natural successor of President Álvaro Uribe.
Furthermore, “tendencies are in the correct direction,” with Santos climbing and Mockus apparently having reached its peak as he is forced to make public his position in controversial issues such as security and foreign relations.
While middle classes are dazzled by “green” Mockus' pacifist and romantic speech, peasants, labourers, small shop keepers, common people who face daily violence are more faithful to the “democratic security” policy of President Uribe—the most popular in recent Colombian political history—which former defence minister Santos has promised to follow.
Colombian political analysts agree that the man on the street is more inclined to vote for the man who helped President Uribe beat back violence and the guerrilla movements that have scourged the country for over four decades and at moments controlled 30% of the territory. With Uribe, and US aid, the guerrillas are back in the bush and on the run. Santos team has, therefore, pushed to establish closer links between the candidate and the figure of President Uribe and corner Mockus in issues of security and foreign relations, which are his weak points.
“Today I’m calling on all Colombians to defend the legacy of the best president in Colombian history. For the good of our children we must advance in his path, so that all Colombians have a job, and more jobs…my government will be the government which most jobs creates,” has become the summons flag of Santos.
Furthermore, following the recent congressional victory Santos “can get on the job right away” while Mockus will have a full year before he can really take the reins of government without a majority in the Legislative.
Mockus and the “greens” attract a contagious passion for change and for what is new says Salud Hernandez Mora in Bogotá’s El Tiempo, while Santos is boredom and continuity. However Mockus can’t criticize Uribe and on the contrary praises the “results of eight years of government” but questions “the methods, which must improve: the rule of the law must defend itself in the framework of the rule of the law”.
In security terms Mockus says that the guerrillas are “defeatable” even if takes years but “we need public opinion support for our security forces and to improve the quality of our justice system” in the framework of the constitution.
Mockus also denies any possible “humanitarian agreement” (exchange of prisoners) with the main guerrilla movement FARC, “while they continue with the language of kidnapping and violence.” In other words, without alienating the “green tide” accepting the realities of a violent country, castigated by the drug cartels and their circumstantial allies the Marxist oriented guerrillas.
Mockus also committed a most serious flaw when admitting he was willing to extradite, if elected, President Uribe and former defence minister Santos, as requested by the Ecuadorian courts. He had to publicly back step and apologize.
The incident refers to the armed incursion of Colombian troops (March 2008) into bordering Ecuadorian territory where they killed FARC number two and future leader, and his entourage plus collecting most valuable information. The action proved a master blow against the guerrillas that since then have been retreating, defeat after defeat, but obviously triggered a strong reaction from neighbouring Ecuador because of the armed violation of its territory.
Therefore, Santos seems to be in the upstream, while Mockus in the down stream besides the fact that Colombian public opinion polls are not necessarily scientifically reliable: most are done by phone and do not cover small towns and villages and rural areas, where Mr. Uribe—and apparently Santos—appears as their hero and saviour.