Colombian Conservative and former Uribe defence minister, Marta Lucía Ramírez on Wednesday announced her intention to run in next year´s presidential elections.
Ramírez must first gain the support of the Conservative bigwigs before her candidature is confirmed, but she is by a clear margin the best hope the party has of securing a meaningful representation in the race for the Casa de Nariño.
Conservative leader Efraín Cepeda is considering Ramírez´s move and also has to ponder whether to align his group with the Uribistas as Ramírez has said must happen.
In Bogotá last weekend ex-president Álvaro Uribe convened a group of his most loyal supporters to establish their strategy for an assault on the Capitolio in 2014. Uribe´s Vice-President Pacho Santos has claimed that his old boss is almost certain to head up a list of candidates for the senate, but there remains a greater level of uncertainty about who will emerge as a presidential candidate.
Many were pushing for Ramírez to be this person. She is perhaps the most visible and respected politician running on a platform of the “Democratic Security” doctrine that defined Uribe´s eight years in power. But Ramírez is committed to her old party.
In launching her campaign, Ramírez has muted the idea of a coalition of the Conservative Party and Uribe´s Centro Democratico movement, a concept that could force apart President Santos´ National Unity government and bring together a powerful right-wing block to face the more centrist Santistas.
Cepeda must consider if and when it is right to pull out of the government. There will be resistance from those enjoying the trappings of power, but it is a move he must dare to pull off. The Conservative Party has flirted with irrelevance following a disastrous campaign in the presidential elections in 2010 and regional elections in 2011.
A once proud party that shared power with the Liberals, the Conservatives have in recent years appeared to allow themselves to be sidelined and defined by accusations of rank corruption and by issues – like and outright ban on abortion, and anti-gay marriage promises – that have little resonance within the electorate.
Marta Lucía Ramírez is very much an acceptable face of Conservatism. Given her Defence Minister past she is a worthy adversary to Juan Manuel Santos on security issues. But Ramírez´s advantage is that she has not allowed herself to be defined – as have many Uribistas – by her position on war and peace, but instead has built a reputation as an authoratative voice on the economy.
In a series of tweets since her announcement, Ramírez decided to focus not on the peace talks with the FARC, but on the Santos government´s preparedness for the FTA with the US, and the productivity of the so-called “locomotives” of the economy.
Colombia is entering the pre-election period. The battlefield is beginning to define itself. Marta Lucía is a very real presidential candidate, one with the potential to coalesce support on the right.