Politics | 5/21/2009 12:00:00 AM
From Defense Minister to candidate in waiting
Juan Manuel Santos, Minister of Defense, faces the unconfortable situation of retiring form the government to be a potential presidential candidate for a party that already has a leader of its own: president Álvaro Uribe.
The young senator looked for the advice of Bob Kerrey, a respected former congressman and Vietnam hero. He answered bluntly: “It’s now or never. Waiting could mean never”. The odds of the situation being the same again are extremely low said Kerrey, who wasted his chance in 1991 after a disastrous electoral campaign. Obama took his advice.
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos faces today que same dilema. For the first time in his political life, he is leading the polls with a 16% according to the last measure. This is a big deal. Since he quit his job as the sub director of the national paper El Tiempo to work as a Minister of Exterior Commerce in 1991, the name Santos has been included in hundreds of polls. In spite of his political relevance and credibility, he didn’t overcome the margin of error for a long time, due perhaps to the fact that he was almost unknown outside Bogotá. Nevertheless, since he has been Minister of Defense and head of the most spectacular military successes of the last decades, 80% of the Colombians know who he is and two thirds of that percentage have a favorable image. It is Santos’ time, but he has a small problem: his boss, Álvaro Uribe, can’t make up his mind.
For years, Santos has eagerly looked for the support of the public opinion to combine it with his ability to deal with the politic class, a virtue that he has shown for over 18 years of political life. That combination of public support and strong qualities could be a success formula for his presidential aspirations. Even more because Santos is one of the politicians Colombians associate with strong policies against FARC. The other one is Álvaro Uribe and that is exactly Santos’ problem. He cannot compete against the man who developed the democratic security, and everything suggests Uribe will be a candidate for 2010.
Santos wasn’t counting on this, he was expecting Uribe to back him or at least have the U party, which he helped to fund. None of that has happened. Nobody in the U party wants to take a chance on Santos as long as Uribe wants to remain on power.
Because of that, Santos can’t oppose Uribe’s reelection, so his strategy will focus in continuing politics such as the democratic security and the investment confidence.
Santos is leaving the Ministry as he announced earlier this week. His best game is to swear to serve Uribe’s politics and patiently wait for the referendum that could approve the reelection to fail. Some have even recommended Santos to go away for a few months or at least until the referendum is resolved and Uribe decides.
The former minister of defense has long been waiting for his perfect time to be a presidential candidate. Polls show, for now, that if Uribe doesn’t run, Santos would beat all the other candidates and stand at the top alongside Sergio Fajardo, independent candidate and former mayor of Medellín (Antioquia province). Standing in the shadow of reelection Santos has to combine loyalty and strategy.
But if Uribe finally seeks to extend his presidency for four more years, Santos doesn’t stand a chance. The polls have revealed that he is the candidate that resembles the most to Uribe. For example, both were most popular after Ingrid Betancourt’s release. Their electors are the same.
Santos likes to be described as a big league gambler. Time will tell if he had a full or a pair of jacks in his hand.
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