As Colombia's presidential election approaches, the field is leveling. So far President Juan Manuel Santos remains the leading candidate, but skepticism of peace talks and a fresh wave of rural protests could tip the scales against him.
According to a new Ipsos poll published in Semana on Saturday, the president would receive 23 percent support in the first round vote next month, a figure which has dropped five points since February. Meanwhile, his competitors are gaining on him. Support for Uribista candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga has gone from 8 to 15 percent during that time, and support for former Bogota Mayor Enrique Peñalosa is at 11 percent, double what it was two months ago. While the survey suggests that Santos would win a second round against either candidate by roughly 10 points, there are a few factors that could hurt his chances.
These include the fact that pessimism regarding his government's peace talks with FARC rebels is slowly growing. The Ipsos poll shows that roughly two-thirds of respondents (63 percent) are not hopeful that the talks will yield a lasting peace, and the number of those who are is steadily declining as well. Santos appears to be combating this by recently announcing a nationwide tour of the government's negotiating team, with the goal of educating the public about the progress made in the dialogues. His opponents, however, have criticized this as politicizing the peace process.
But a more immediate threat for Santos is yesterday's emergence of rural protests by campesino groups (see EFE, El Espectador), which accuse his government of not fulfilling the terms of an agreement reached after last year's large-scale "agrarian strike." Reuters notes that Santos' reluctance to negotiate with protesters in 2013 contributed to a sharp decine in his approval rating, and could do so again.
Fortunately for the president, according to El Tiempo the protests appear to be relatively small compared to last year, when major highways were blockaded and entire towns were cut off from transportation for over a week. La Silla Vacia points out that one advantage for Santos is that, this time around, many popular campesino and agricultural interest groups appear to be alligned with the president against the strike.
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