The prospect of another election must seem tempting to Uribe, given the dearth of serious challengers. Come Election Day, the biggest threat will likely come from "no one." Jaime Castro, a constitutional lawyer and former mayor of Bogotá, is trying to unite opposition to a second Uribe term around a blank vote. If more than 50 percent of votes cast are blank, a new round of voting is called for, with the original candidates barred from standing again.
On one front, though, Uribe is vulnerable. The economy is slowing, growing less than expected and well below the rate of Colombia's neighbors. Colombia has Latin America's third-largest population, but the fifth-largest economy. Unemployment remains stubbornly in the double digits, and over 60 percent of the population live on or below the poverty line. Uribe, focused on destroying Colombia's violence, says that once the civil war and cocaine industry are quelled, investment will come streaming in. For all the improvements in security, Colombians have yet to see much change in their pockets.
Colombia's debate over a second term reflects a larger struggle between a boundless optimism that says the age of poor rulers is over and that the nation can look forward to giving its leaders the time needed to make changes, and a world-weary pessimism that says the good is ephemeral but the bad lingers on. When Colombians go to the polls in 18 months, it seems likely that optimism will win out, saving pessimism's return for a later date.
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