After tight reelection, Colombia's President Santos is told to listen

Santos’ push for peace was enough to tip the balance in his favor, but his opponent said in his concession speech that the voice of the 7 million Colombians who voted against him 'will have to be heard.'

By , Correspondent

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    Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos gestures to the crowd after winning a second term in a presidential election June 15. His victory allows him to continue peace talks with Marxist guerrillas.
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For many Colombians, President Juan Manuel Santos’ win in Sunday's presidential election provoked a sigh of relief – but not necessarily cheers.

His reelection means that the peace process between the government and leftist rebels will continue in hopes of drawing the country's 50 year war to an end.

But with such a close race – President Santos won reelection with 51 percent of the vote, compared to his right-wing opponent Óscar Iván Zuluaga’s 45 percent ­– many here say inclusion is key to moving forward.

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Santos’ promise of peace was enough to tip the balance in his favor, but Mr. Zuluaga noted in his concession speech that the voice of nearly 7 million Colombians who voted for him “will have to be heard.”

El Espectador, a Bogotá-based newspaper, agreed in its editorial today. "A peace accord with the [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] FARC would not be legitimate if it does not take into account the concerns of part of society."

Santos won his first election in 2010 by piggy-backing off the immense popularity of his predecessor Alvaro Uribe, whose tough security policies were credited with reining in the FARC. But Santos changed tack by initiating peace talks with the FARC in 2012, a “betrayal” for which Uribe never forgave Santos, instead throwing his support behind his rival Zuluaga.

Had Zuluaga won, the peace talks likely would have been scuttled. He said during the race that he planned to impose strict conditions on their continuation; something many agree would have been rejected by FARC negotiators.

The prospect of an intensified conflict after two years of cautious optimism for peace may have scared enough people into voting for Santos. By most counts, the peace talks are going well, albeit slowly. And now the government is holding preliminary meetings with Colombia’s second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), with the aim of starting a parallel peace process.

But many cast their ballot while holding their nose, saying they were voting for further peace talks, but didn’t agree with Santos' other policies, such as signing numerous free trade agreements and his government's failure to implement judicial reforms. 

But it’s not just Santos who will need to keep in mind the nearly half of Colombian society that voted against him. The uribista camp, which will hold 19 seats out of 102 in the Senate next month, would do well to acknowledge the popular sentiment that gave Santos his victory. And as El Tiempo, a national newspaper, notes in its editorial this morning, the FARC and ELN guerrillas should keep all Colombians in mind as they move forward as well.

"The FARC and ELN better understand that what happened at the polls is a show of generosity in the name of the change that we all want," the El Tiempo editorial board wrote.

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