Category Archives: Colombia

Colombia – Presidential election to be decided in second-round on June 15th

Only last week, I discussed the rather dramatic events surrounding the presidential election campaign in Colombia. Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the candidate of former president Álvaro Uribe’s new Centro Democrático party, was implicated in a scandal, which saw one of his advisors, Andres Fernando Sepulveda, arrested on a charge of intercepting the emails of President Juan Manual Santos. Santos was Zuluaga’s main competitor in this election, and was in the midst of conducting peace talks with the FARC guerrilla group in Havana, talks that Uribe and Zualaga vehemently opposes. The scandal saw the resignation of Zuluaga’s campaign manager, Luis Alfonso Hoyos and last Sunday, despite Zuluaga’s protestations that he was unaware of Sepulveda’s activity, news magazine Semana published a video apparently showing Zuluaga discussing the illegal interceptions with Sepulveda.

However, the scandal did not unduly damage Zuluaga’s frontrunner status. Zuluaga finished first with 29.3 per cent of the vote, while Santos of the Partido Social de Unidad Nacional finished second with 25.7 per cent. Martha Lucía Ramírez, the candidate of the traditional Partido Conservador Colombiano, and Uribe’s former defense minister, finished third with 15.5 per cent, while Clara López, of the left-leaning Polo Democrático Alternativo, came fourth with 15.2 per cent. Enrique Peñalosa, the candidate of Colombia’s green party, the Partido Verde Colombiano, finished last with 8.3 per cent of the vote. This means that the outcome will be decided in a second round run-off on June 15th.

This run-off will largely act as a plebiscite on the peace talks Santos is conducting with the FARC. In fact, the policies of Zuluaga and Santos differ little except for their stance on this peace process. Zuluaga and Uribe have been intensely critical of Santos’ initiative, and have accused the president of treason. The peace talks have been reasonably successful and agreement has been reached on three of the five issues on the agenda: agricultural reform, FARC political participation and most recently, drug production and trafficking, with only victim reparations and transitional justice to be agreed upon.

However, the legitimacy of this election has been somewhat undermined by a very low turnout. The abstention rate in Sunday’s election was 59.93 per cent, garnering sharp criticism from the Organization of American States (OAS), which suggested that the poor turnout was partly driven by the aggressively negative nature of the campaign. To put this into perspective, only 40 per cent of Colombia’s 33 registered voters took part in this election, meaning only 11.4 per cent of all voters actually supported Zuluaga.

If abstention proves to be an issue for the run-off in June, this could deprive the eventual victor of a democratic mandate. In the meantime, it makes it even more difficult to identify the potential winner of this race.

Colombia – The Politics of Peace Talks and Presidential Elections

On May 25th, Colombia will go to the polls to elect a new president. The race is primarily between two candidates: Juan Manuel Santos of the Partido Social de Unidad Nacional, and the candidate of the right-leaning Centro Democrático, Óscar Iván Zuluaga. The latest polls suggest that there is very little between both candidates.

However, this election is a somewhat complicated affair, and provides a good insight into Colombia’s insider-outsider political system. The current incumbent, Santos, was formerly defense minister during the presidency of Álvaro Uribe. Uribe, the former two-term president who left the traditional Partido Liberal Colombiano to form his own vaguely populist party with appeals rooted in security, became the first Colombian ex-president to win a seat in the Senate this March. Uribe, a consummate insider, has risen to the highest political offices in Colombia by cleverly portraying himself as a political outsider, who rails against corrupt and inefficient political elites.

Centro Democrático was only established in January 2013 to compete in the legislative elections this March and its platform, “no to impunity”, was largely centered on opposition to peace talks Juan Manuel Santos is conducting with the FARC in Havana. In fact, Uribe and Santos have had a rather acrimonious public falling-out. The candidate of Centro Democrático, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, was formerly Minister for Public Credit during the Uribe presidency, and a former cabinet colleague of the current incumbent, Santos. With me so far?

Well, it gets more complicated. The backdrop to this election campaign is the peace talks Santos’ government has been conducting with the FARC and on Friday, it was announced that negotiators have now reached agreement with the guerillas on three of the five issues on the agenda: agricultural reform, FARC political participation and most recently, drug production and trafficking. Only victim reparations and transitional justice remain to be agreed upon.

Zuluaga, who has vowed to suspend the peace process, which he and Uribe believe represents national treason, has gradually managed to pip Santos in the polls. However, the presidential campaign has taken a rather dramatic twist. Earlier this month, Andres Fernando Sepulveda, an adviser to Óscar Iván Zuluaga, was arrested and accused of intercepting the emails of President Santos and Luciano Marin, the chief negotiator for the FARC in the peace talks. Zuluaga’s campaign manager, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, also quit after broadcaster, RCN, claimed they had been offered confidential information about the peace talks. Zuluaga has always vehemently denied any knowledge of Sepulveda’s activity. But today howver, news magazine Semana, has published a video apparently showing Zuluaga discussing illegal interceptions with Sepulveda.

With just a week to go until voters go to the polls, this throws everything up in the air. What effect, if any, this will have on Colombia’s somewhat incestuous political system remains to be seen. Regardless, remember to check back here next week for the election results.

Colombia – Legislative Elections a Slight Setback for Santos

This is a big year for Colombian politics. On Sunday, voters went to the polls to elect a new Congress and in May, they will return to the polls to elect a new president. Sunday’s election was widely viewed as a referendum on the popularity of President Juan Manuel Santos’ peace talks with the FARC guerrilla group currently under way in Havana, and as a barometer of Santos’ popularity prior to this year’s presidential elections.

Although Santos’ legislative position was weakened slightly, his governing coalition still managed to retain a majority in both houses, and his Partido Social de Unidad Nacional (Partido de la U) still retains the largest share of Senate seats (21of 102) and the second largest share of seats in the lower house (37 of 166). The new Colombian lower and upper houses now look like this:

Source: http://suffragio.org/2014/03/10/uribe-returns-to-colombian-political-life-as-senator/

Source: http://suffragio.org/2014/03/10/uribe-returns-to-colombian-political-life-as-senator/

Source: http://suffragio.org/2014/03/10/uribe-returns-to-colombian-political-life-as-senator/

Source: http://suffragio.org/2014/03/10/uribe-returns-to-colombian-political-life-as-senator/

Of particular interest in this election was the return of Álvaro Uribe, the former two-term president who left the Partido Liberal Colombiano to form his own vaguely populist party with appeals rooted in security. Uribe, running under the slogan “no to impunity” became the first Colombian ex-president to win a seat in the Senate. Throughout the election Uribe accused Santos, his former defense minister, of treason, by providing the FARC with a political stage at the peace talks in Havana. Centro Democrático, the new party established by Uribe for the elections, only managed to win 12 of 166 seats in the lower house, but won 19 of the 102 seats in the upper house, the place where congressional power in Colombia traditionally lies.

Uribe is likely to prove a thorn in the side of Santos. Congress will be essential in the process of drafting legislation for any peace deal that emerges from the talks in Havana, and while 68 per cent of Colombians agree with the peace talks, 78 per cent disapprove of former FARC members entering politics without some form of penal sanction. As the Economist notes, Uribe and the Centro Democrático will “stoke this sentiment” thereby reducing the space available for Santos to reach a deal with the FARC.

Nonetheless, Juan Manuel Santos still remains the favorite to win the upcoming presidential election. His only real challenger appears to be Óscar Iván Zuluaga of Uribe’s Centro Democrático party. Check this space in May.