Colombia election: What the candidates are proposing

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Colombia's presidential election in May will be held amid division and uncertainty over the 2016 peace deal between the government and FARC rebels.

But the historic accord - which ended Latin America's longest and deadliest civil conflict - is not the only issue on voters' minds as they choose a successor to Juan Manuel Santos.

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The Andean nation is also grappling with a stagnant economyentrenched corruptionmass immigration from Venezuela and renewed guerrilla violence, particularly at the hands of the ELN.

If no candidate receives at least half of the valid vote in the May 27 election, a runoff will be held on June 17.

BNamericas looks at the nine leading candidates, according to the Latest Polimétrica poll, and analyzes their key proposals.

Iván Duque (Centro Democrático)

Age: 41

Latest Polimétrica poll (% of vote): 22%

Duque is the candidate for the conservative Centro Democrático party, whose founder and leader is former president Álvaro Uribe. His proposals include plans to slash public spending, reduce and simplify taxes, diversify exports and offer fiscal incentives for new businesses.

Despite Uribe's outspoken criticism of the 2016 peace accord, Duque has said that he would maintain the agreement "with important modifications". Among them would be a ban on the group's former leaders from elected office.

Gustavo Petro (Colombia Humana)

Age: 57

Latest Polimétrica poll (% of vote): 22%

Petro is a former Marxist militant and ex-mayor of Bogotá. He was a member of the M-19 rebel group in 1985 when it stormed Colombia's Palace of Justice in a Pablo Escobar-backed siege that left 53 civilians dead.

Days earlier, Petro was arrested for illegal possession of firearms. Despite not participating directly in the attack, he was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

His socialist platform includes plans to reduce the country's dependence on oil and mining - Colombia's largest export industries - while promoting investments in agricultural and sustainability initiatives. He has proposed that state oil producer Ecopetrol be converted into "Colombia's solar energy company".

Petro, who cut debt and maintained Bogotá's 'AAA' credit rating during his time as the city's mayor, also aims to nationalize pension savings and end private-sector financing for strategic infrastructure projects such as the 4G highways program.

Sergio Fajardo (Compromiso Ciudadano)

Age: 61

Latest Polimétrica poll (% of vote): 11%

The mathematician and former journalist is a veteran on Colombia's political scene, having served as the mayor of Medellín and governor of Antioquia department.

The key theme of Fajardo's campaign has been corruption, which he blames for stalling investments in important infrastructure projects and compromising economic growth. He encourages greater cooperation between the public and private sectors and says the government should act as a "partner and guarantor" for investors. 

Fajardo has declared he will fight inequality, violence and a "culture of illegality" by increasing public spending in education and innovation.

"The vast majority of Colombians face a gigantic wall that separates them from opportunities and there is no way to climb over it," he says in his election manifesto. "At the same time, they see a door that is the entrance to the world of illegality and denied opportunities. Our political challenge is to tear down that wall and close that door that leads to illegality and violence."

Germán Vargas Lleras (Cambio Radical)

Age: 56

Latest Polimétrica poll (% of vote): 8%

Vargas is the grandson of former president Carlos Lleras Restrepo and the nephew of one-time presidential candidate Carlos Lleras de la Fuente.

The ex-vice president has said he will implement tax reform, including lowering the top rate paid by businesses to 30% in a bid to improve the competitiveness of local industries.

He also plans to introduce a legal framework for prior consultations that have impacted the oil, mining, electric power and infrastructure sectors, overhaul the country's royalty system to reflect project profitability, change laws related to public-private partnerships and protect private investors in projects of strategic national interest.

Marta Lucía Ramírez (Independent)

Age: 63

Latest Polimétrica poll (% of vote): 6%

Ramírez was Colombia's first female defence minister, occupying the position from 2002 to 2003 under President Uribe.

Her proposals include the removal of up to 72bn pesos (US$25mn) a year in "badly managed" government subsidies, with the funds instead being used to create 500,000 jobs dedicated to taking care of forests, parks and other public areas.

She would also seek to reduce bureaucracy and regulatory processes in a bid to simulate investment and tackle corruption. In addition, Ramirez, who has also served as foreign trade minister and Colombia's ambassador in France, has endorsed a pension system overhaul and efforts to boost exports, prioritizing the Pacific Alliance bloc.

Humberto de la Calle  (Colombian Liberal party)

Age: 71

Latest Polimétrica poll (% of vote): 4%

The oldest of Colombia's presidential candidates, De la Calle has twice served as a cabinet minister and was vice president from 1994 to 1997.

His campaign has so far focused on restoring "vigorous economic growth" and reducing poverty via a more progressive tax system. Other proposals include less political interference with public corporations, a ban on mining in the country's páramos - high altitude ecosystems - and greater sensitivity for other socio-environmental causes.

Alejandro Ordóñez (La patria de Pie)

Age: 62

Latest Polimétrica poll (% of vote): 3%

The former attorney general has vowed to reduce the size of the state administration and the "unjustified existence of entities that only represent an excessive expense". Likewise he says he will tackle bureaucracy, clientelism and corruption, while pouring more resources into hospitals and education.

Ordóñez has also vouched for an overhaul of the government's subsidy programs, which he claims are subject to widespread abuse. He promises to immediately lower the maximum income tax rate for individuals to 30% from 33% and return the IVA value-added tax to 16% from the present 19%.

In the longer term, he plans to gradually reduce the maximum income tax rate to 25% and IVA to 10%.

Juan Carlos Pinzón (Ante Todo Colombia)

Age: 46

Latest Polimétrica poll (% of vote): 1%

The former defense minister and Colombian ambassador to the US says he will create 5mn jobs and bring around 2.5mn workers into the formal economy.

Like several other candidates, he has espoused tax reform to improve Colombia's competitiveness, while calling for greater legal and regulatory stability in the mining and oil sectors. In addition, Pinzón says he would prioritize growth in the tourism, agribusiness and technology sectors.

Piedad Córdoba (Poder Ciudadano)

Age: 63

Latest Polimétrica poll (% of vote): 1%

The long-serving former senator and champion of socialist causes returned to politics after a six-year absence in 2016 after the supreme court lifted her ban from public office for allegedly collaborating with FARC rebels.

Her campaign platform includes proposals to abolish the IVA value-added tax, raise taxes for high-income earners, reduce commissions charged by banks and ramp up public spending on child welfare, health and public housing.