“They want peace but they don’t like the cost of it,” Restrepo said.
But before Zuluaga can turn the presidential race into a referendum on the peace deal he has to become a serious contender. Despite decades in public office, he’s relatively obscure. Only 50 percent of people in urban areas know who he is, according to an Ipsos poll from April.
“He’s going to have to build name recognition and that’s not an easy task,” Restrepo said.
Uribe’s backing will help. He’s still one of the most popular figures in the nation — despite being hounded by allegations of corruption and ties to paramilitary gangs. An Ipsos poll from September showed him with an approval rating of 58 percent versus Santos’ 29 percent. His Center Democratic party is asking election authorities permission to use Uribe’s face on the April ballot.
But Uribe has struggled in the past to turn his personal charisma into votes for others..
Other potential rivals could also upset the balance, including former Bogotá mayors Clara Lopez and Enrique Peñalosa; and former guerrilla commander and legislator Antonio Navarro Wolff — all of whom have come out in support of the peace process.
To some extent, Santos will be squeezed between peace and politics. He needs to show the country results but without making concessions that will be used against him on the campaign, trail, said Maribel Vasquez, a researcher at The American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies. The FARC may understand that calculus.
On Sunday, the day after Zuluaga was nominated, the guerrillas released Kevin Scott Sutay, a U.S. veteran they had been holding for four months. In a communiqué, the rebels said it should be seen as an olive branch.
“We hope that this unilateral decision by the FARC — in which we asked for nothing in return — will be positive push for the peace talks,” they said.