BOGOTA: Colombians head to the polls Sunday in a cliffhanger presidential election that has become a referendum on peace talks with leftist guerrillas.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who wants a second consecutive term in office, is well advanced on reaching a deal that would end five decades of war with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
His bitter rival, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, long opposed the peace talks but now says that he would negotiate with the rebels but under stricter conditions. For Santos, 62, the stark choice for voters is between “the end of the conflict or an endless conflict.” The internal war, a violent cocktail of rebels, paramilitary militia and criminal gangs, has left more than 220,000 people dead and forced five million people to leave their homes.
Both Santos and Zuluaga were cabinet ministers under the hard-line former president Alvaro Uribe (2002- 2010), who remains a powerful political force. Uribe is fully behind Zuluaga, and pre-vote surveys show no clear winner. The peace process, recently expanded to also include the smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas, could collapse with a Zuluaga victory, said Vicente Torrijos, a political scientist at the Universidad del Rosario.
Founded in the 1960s, the ELN and the FARC are the last leftist guerrilla armies operating in Colombia. They boast 2,500 and 8,000 fighters, respectively.
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