After a long war, Colombia embraces peace at the ballot box

The election of a new president after a 2016 peace pact was marked with historic firsts that can help reconcile Colombians.

Former members of the leftist guerrilla groups ELN and FARC, members of the right wing paramilitary groups, and victims of the armed conflict in Colombia participate in a soccer match for the peace in Dabeiba, Colombia, June 19.

After ending a half-century of civil war with a peace pact two years ago, Colombia held its first presidential election last Sunday. The presence of peace was palpable.

For the first time in generations, there was no political violence on voting day. The use of misinformation in the campaign was minuscule. The ballot count was finished in less than an hour. Most of all, many Colombians voted for a leftist candidate for the first time without fear or shame, a sign of an emerging national reconciliation.

In the end, the right-leaning candidate, Iván Duque, won with an 11-point margin. In his victory speech, he acknowledged that “peace has to be above political calculations.” He will need to keep that promise in order to fully implement a peace settlement that found the right balance between justice and mercy for the war’s combatants.

Mr. Duque was born before the war even began in the 1960s between the government and the Marxist rebels of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). When he takes office in August, he will become the country’s youngest elected president. His running mate, Marta Lucía Ramírez, will become the first female vice president.

Just as historic was the fact that his opponent, Gustavo Petro, a former rebel and former Bogotá mayor, garnered 42 percent of the vote. In conservative Colombia, this was quite a feat. It shows a new sense of freedom and a desire for peace after a war in which more than 200,000 Colombians were killed.

Duque will need to govern from the center to help consolidate the gains of the peace pact as well as finish up negotiations with a smaller rebel group called the National Liberation Army (ELN). Voters are most concerned about corruption, the economy, and urban security. And they mostly accept the reintegration of former FARC rebels into society and into politics.

With its new peace, Colombia is now searching for unity. “No more divisions,” Duque said after the election. “I will not govern with hatred.” If he succeeds, it will help show that peace is far more than an absence of conflict.

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