Category Archives: Colombia

Fernando Meireles – Latin American presidents and their oversized government coalitions

This is a guest post by Fernando Meireles, Ph.D candidate in Political Science at Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil). E-mail: fmeireles@ufmg.br

In many countries, presidents have a difficult time governing because their parties lack a legislative majority. In fact, because of the combination of separate elections for executive and legislative branches with multiparty systems, this situation is far from uncommon: during the last two decades in all 18 Latin American countries with presidential systems, only 26% of the time has the president’s party had a majority in the lower house. Due to this constraint, as a vast amount of research now highlights, minority presidents usually form multiparty government coalitions by including other parties in their cabinets. Again, only four Latin American presidential countries in the last twenty years were not governed by a multiparty coalition at some point since the 1980s.

However, the need to craft a legislative majority alone does not explain why presidents frequently include more parties in their governments than necessary to obtain a minimum winning coalition – forming what I call an oversized government coalition. The distribution of this type of coalition in Latin America is shown in the graph below. As can be seen, it is not a rare phenomenon.

If government coalitions are costly to maintain, as presidents have to keep tabs on their coalition partners to ensure they are not exploiting their portfolios to their own advantage – not to mention the fact that by splitting spoils and resources between coalition partners, the president’s own party is worse off – then why are these oversized coalitions prevalent in some Latin American countries?

In a recent article in Brazilian Political Science Review, I tackled this puzzle by analyzing the emergence of oversized government coalitions in all 18 presidential countries in Latin America[1], followed by a case study focusing on Brazil, spanning from 1979 to 2012. To this end, I gathered data on cabinet composition[2] from several sources to calculate the size of each government coalition in the sample: if a coalition had at least one party that could be removed without hampering the majority status of the government in the lower house in a given year, I classified it as an oversized coalition.

Specifically, I examined three main factors that, according to previous research, should incentivize presidents to include more parties in their coalitions than necessary to ensure majority support: 1) the motivation party leaders have to maximize votes, which would make joining the government attractive to opposition parties (vote-seeking); 2) the motivation presidents have to avoid coalition defections to implement their policy agendas (policy-seeking); and 3) the institutional context, considering the effects of bicameralism, qualified majority rules, and party system format on government coalition size.

The results support some of the hypothesis suggested by the literature. First, presidents are more prone to form oversized coalitions at the beginning of their terms, which shows that the proximity to the election affects Latin American presidents’ decision to form, and opposition parties to accept being part of, large coalitions – as others studies argue, this is mainly due to parties defecting from a coalition to present themselves as opposition when elections are approaching. Second, party fragmentation also has a positive effect on the emergence of oversized coalitions, consistent with the hypothesis that presidents might include additional parties in their coalitions anticipating legislative defections. Yet on the other hand, presidential approval, party discipline, and ideological polarization do not have the same positive effects on the probability of an oversized coalition being formed.

The factor that has the most impact on the occurrence of oversized coalitions, however, is the legislative powers of the president. As the literature points out, legislative decrees and urgency bills could be used by skilled presidents to coordinate their coalitions, facilitating horizontal bargaining between coalition partners. The comparative results show that this is the case in Latin America: the difference in the predicted probability of a president with maximum legislative powers in the sample forming an oversized coalition and another with minimum powers is about 32 percent points.

By exploring the Brazilian case in more depth, I also found that bicameralism dynamics and qualified majority rules impact the emergence of oversized coalitions. With two chambers elected through different electoral rules, parties in Brazil are often unable to secure the same seat share in both houses; to make things worse for presidents, party switching is still widespread in the country. In this context, as my results uncovered, differences in the number of seats controlled by the government in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate positively affect the emergence of oversized coalitions. Finally, as some bills require supermajorities to be approved, such as constitutional amendments, reformist presidents also tend to form and maintain larger coalitions: the maximum value in this variable predicts increases by up to 10 percentage points on the probability of an oversized coalition being formed.

Taken together, these results show a more nuanced picture of why and how presidents form multiparty government coalitions in Latin America: often, obtaining a legislative majority is not enough to implement their legislative agendas, and so they might resort to a complementary strategy: to form larger coalitions. And presidents with greater legislative power, at the beginning of their terms or facing fragmented party systems, are in the best position to pursue such a strategy. In this way, both electoral and programmatic factors, as well as the institutional context, become key to understand variations in the size and the composition of government coalitions in presidential countries.

Notes

[1] These countries are Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

[2] The criteria employed to identify a government coalition is the party affiliation of the ministers of the principal ministerial portfolios in each country – taking into account that ministers are not always recruited due to their connections or their congressional influence, and that in some cases they are not recognized by their parties as legitimate representatives of the same.

Johannes Freudenreich – The Formation of Cabinet Coalitions in Presidential Systems

This is a guest post by Johannes Freudenreich, Postdoctoral research fellow at the Geschwister-Scholl-Institut für Politikwissenschaft at the University of Munich. It is based on an recent article in Latin American Politics and Society

In the beginning of the 21st century, prospects of Latin American presidential democracies were good. The dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s had vanished, economies were constantly growing, and comprehensive social welfare programs were implemented. Many political scientists link these successes to the ability of Latin American presidents to form, maintain and manage cabinet coalitions (Cheibub 2007). The differences between presidential and parliamentary systems of government seemed to have become rather marginal. Both presidents and prime ministers achieved legislative majorities by forming broad cabinet coalitions and critics of the presidential form of democracy, such as Juan Linz (1994), seemed to be proven wrong. However, soon presidential impeachments became the new pattern of political instability in the region (Pérez Liñan 2007). Cabinet reshuffling remains constantly high and broad corruption schemes, directly linked to coalition politics, have been disclosed, such as the Mensalão Scandal in Brazil, where the ruling party of President Lula da Silva used illegal side payments to secure the legislative support of members of the ruling coalition.

My recent article in Latin American Politics and Society takes a systematic look at the formation of cabinet coalitions in presidential systems over the past 25 years. It analyzes the extent to which presidents in 13 Latin American countries have formed coalitions that increase their law-making capabilities, and whether presidents form coalitions tailored to find majorities in Congress especially when presidents have low independent influence over policy based on their institutional law-making powers.

The study complements the perspective that cabinet coalitions are largely an instrument for finding legislative majorities with the idea that presidents use cabinet posts to honor pre-electoral support. The reason is the following: presidential elections provide strong incentives for electoral coordination because they tend to favor two-candidate competition. In a multi-party setting, this means that parties have incentives to form pre-electoral coalitions to present joint presidential candidates. When negotiating pre-electoral pacts, parties are likely to agree on how to share the benefits of winning including cabinet posts. After the election, presidents find it difficult to abandon these agreements as they need the trust and support of other parties within and outside of their coalition during their presidential term. Thus, it is expected that cabinet coalitions are likely to be based on the electoral team of presidents and that other legislative parties are invited to join the cabinet only additionally to parties of the existing pre-electoral coalition.

The study further argues that parties attractive as pre-electoral coalition partners are not necessarily the ones that would achieve cabinet participation if the negotiations of cabinet posts were an unconstrained post-electoral process. For example, in a one-dimensional policy space, extreme parties, parties more extreme than the president to the median legislator, are relatively unimportant for legislative decisions and thus unlikely to be included in the cabinet for legislative reasons. In a presidential race, however, extreme parties can provide valuable votes and campaign resources and therefore have far stronger blackmailing power. Furthermore, presidential contests produce a strong antagonism between the president and the parties of the president’s electoral rivals. Since the president’s survival in office is not contingent on the support of other parties in parliament, parties that present a strong presidential candidate are likely to be excluded from the cabinet, even if their inclusion is rational from a lawmaking perspective. It is therefore expected that the party of the runner-up is generally excluded from the presidential cabinet and that the overall explanatory power of variables of legislative bargaining increases once one controls for the effects of pre-electoral coalition formation and competition.

The study empirically evaluates this argumentation on the basis of so-called conditional logit models, presenting a new empirical strategy to analyze cabinet formation under this type of regime. The tests are conducted on a new dataset of 107 democratic cabinets in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Based on the new method and data, this study presents the most comprehensive test yet of the determinants of the partisan composition of presidential cabinets.

The most note-worthy empirical results are:

First, presidents try to form majority coalitions, but it is the upper house majority not the lower house majority which makes cabinet coalitions significantly likely to from. One potential explanation for this phenomenon is that there are generally fewer parties in the upper than in the lower chamber, due to the disproportionality of electoral systems used to elect upper chambers in Latin America. Thus, the president’s party is often overrepresented in the upper house, which makes it easier for presidents to find majorities. Furthermore, upper chambers are generally strong in Latin America (Nolte and Llanos 2004), and controlling an upper chamber is often sufficient for the president to prevent a veto override.

Second, contrary to expectations in the literature, extensive presidential decree powers decrease the probability of the occurrence of cabinets which control only a minority of seats in the lower house of congress. A potential explanation for this phenomenon is similar to the argument developed by Strøm (1990) for minority governments in parliamentary systems. Parties prefer to stay in opposition when the government has a weak independent influence on policy. The other explanation is that pre-electoral coalition formation is more prevalent when presidents’ institutional authority is high, as political actors make a relatively simple calculation about the benefits and the costs of coordination in presidential elections. The more powerful the president, the higher the incentives for pre-electoral coalition formation (Hicken and Stoll 2008; Freudenreich 2013). And if the a coalition is in power anyway, it is easier to extend this coalition to secure a majority in the lower house of congress.

Third, considerations of governability and pre-electoral bargaining describe two distinct yet compatible sets of factors that influence cabinet formation in presidential systems. Many cabinet coalitions in Latin America are congruent or extended versions of the pre-electoral coalition of the president and parties of the main presidential competitor are generally excluded from the cabinet, but these factors are distinct to the incentives of legislative bargaining. The explanatory power of variables associated with governability increases once variables of pre-electoral bargaining are included in the statistical model. For example, cabinet coalitions are more likely to form when they include the median party in the lower chamber of congress, but this effect is only statistically significant when one controls for the effects of pre-electoral bargaining.

Overall, the paper tries to show that an inclusive approach is necessary to study coalition dynamics in presidential systems. Pre-electoral commitments strongly affect cabinet formation and thereby also confound the relationship between cabinet formation, legislative bargaining and governability.

Literature

Cheibub, José A. 2007. Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Freudenreich, Johannes. 2013. Coalition Formation in Presidential Systems. Ph.D. diss., University of Potsdam.

Hicken, Allen, and Heather Stoll. 2008. Electoral Rules and the Size of the Prize: How Political Institutions Shape Presidential Party Systems. Journal of Politics 70, 4: 1109–27.

Linz, Juan J. 1994. Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does it Make a Difference? In The Failure of Presidential Democracy: The Case of Latin America, ed. Linz and Arturo Valenzuela. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 3–89.

Nolte, Detlef/Mariana Llanos. 2004. “Starker Bikameralismus? Zur Verfassungslage lateinamerikanischer Zweikammersysteme.” Zeitschrift für Parlamentsfragen 35: 113-131.

Pérez-Liñán, Aníbal 2007. Presidential Impeachment and the New Political Instability in Latin America. Cambridge University Press: New York.

Strøm, Kaare. 1990. Minority Government and Majority Rule. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Annette Idler – Colombia, President Santos and the Nobel Prize

This is a guest post from Annette Idler at the University of Oxford. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Only days after the people of Colombia voted to reject a historic peace deal he spent years negotiating, the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the country’s decades-long war with the FARC guerrilla movement.

The no vote came a week after the government and the FARC had signed a peace deal, and after they had declared a bilateral ceasefire and the end of all hostilities at the end of August. Nevertheless, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has given Santos and his fellow negotiators a vote of confidence – one that they have earned through years of dogged and determined work.

Santos became president in 2010 after serving as defence minister under his presidential predecessor Alvaro Uribe. Those years were marked by a hardline military approach against the FARC, whom Uribe labelled as “narco-terrorists” that had to be defeated militarily. Previous peace talks had failed and had left many Colombians feeling betrayed by the FARC.

Uribe’s hawkish policy weakened the FARC considerably, including by killing some of the group’s leadership figures, and it made urban areas safer. But it also pushed the conflict towards the country’s peripheries and across its borders, contributing to huge refugee flows and a humanitarian crisis that went largely unnoticed in many of Bogota’s comfortable government offices.

This era was also overshadowed by severe human rights abuses committed by members of the armed forces, including the “false positives” scandal, in which peasants were killed and then dressed up as guerrilla fighters to artificially inflate the body count.

The Uribe administration had stuck to the line that the FARC were narco-terrorists, not insurgents, and that they therefore should never be talked to. At some points they had denied the existence of an armed conflict altogether. But when Santos was elected president in 2010, the government changed course, accepting that it needed to engage the FARC in dialogue.

In 2012, I was carrying out fieldwork at the Colombia-Venezuela border, one of the country’s most war-torn regions, when peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC were publicly announced. At that time, the displaced people, ex-combatants, military officials, indigenous leaders and other local people I spoke to greeted the news with deep scepticism.

On the ground, it was easy to see why. While the world applauded the start of formal talks, the FARC actually intensified its armed attacks, perhaps to ensure that it would enter the negotiations in a position of strength. The upshot was that even as the talks began, some of Colombia’s marginalised communities were even more vulnerable to violence than before.

Balancing act

When the peace accord was rejected in the October 2 plebiscite, Santos accepted the result and reached out to the opposition – in particular to Uribe – to bring them to the negotiating table and discuss how the accord can be made tolerable for all Colombians. He affirmed that he would remain committed to peace until his last day in office.

Already steps have been taken to try and preserve order. The government and the FARC have now agreed to extend the ceasefire until at least October 31. Together with the UN, they are currently discussing how the FARC’s planned demobilisation process and the mechanisms to verify it can be adjusted to the situation after the no vote.

One of the no campaign’s principal arguments was that the deal as signed offers FARC members legal impunity. However, it does include sophisticated transitional justice mechanisms, according to which those involved in atrocious crimes will be held accountable for their deeds, including through prison sentences. Finding new terms with which the FARC’s leadership agree will be tricky to say the least.

Then there are the country’s other armed groups. Colombia’s armed forces support the government’s efforts for peace. Contrary to previous years, today’s Colombian Head of the Army described his troops as “architects of peace”. Yet while guaranteeing the ceasefire with the FARC, they have to continue military operations against other violent groups such as the ELN. As long as the FARC’s fighters aren’t concentrated in what were supposed to be demobilisation zones, this is a difficult task. A minor mistake could easily spark an escalation.

Rut Diamint and Laura Tedesco – Rethinking political leadership in Latin America

This is a guest post by Rut Diamint (Universidad Torcuato Di Tella) and Laura Tedesco (Saint Louis University/Madrid Campus) based on their newly published book, Latin America´s Leaders, available here.

In writing Latin America´s Leaders, we had four objectives: to review the main bibliography on political leadership; to examine the domestic political conditions that impact on the emergence of different types of leaders; to offer a qualitative analysis of interviews with political leaders; and to devise a typology of democratic leaders.

Our research[i] was motivated by questions related to the democratic quality of leaders[ii]. Why do democratically elected leaders undermine democracy as soon as they are in power? Is there any relationship between the features of political party systems and the leaders’ democratic quality? Why has the return to democracy not done away with Latin America’s tendency to generate strong leaders?

We looked at Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Uruguay. While all these countries suffered similar political and economic crises during the 2000s, the outcomes were different: five presidents were expelled in Argentina, three in Ecuador, one in Venezuela and none in Uruguay and Colombia. In Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela the crises brought about the fragmentation or collapse of the party system and the emergence of strong leaders. Conversely, in Uruguay the 2002 crisis neither affected the political party system nor became a major systemic crisis; the traditional political parties lost the elections and the Frente Amplio won the presidency for the first time since its creation in 1971. In Colombia, political parties underwent an important transformation following the political reforms in 1991 and the 2003, and political stability with a high degree of institutionalization allowed a strong leader in the form of Álvaro Uribe to come to power – yet these features also helped to control his political ambitions.

We conducted 285 interviews with former Presidents, Vice-Presidents, MPs, mayors and party leaders. The aim of the interviews was to learn how leaders interpret democratic quality and how far they perceive themselves as the architects of democracy.

Our interviewees talked about powerful presidents who concentrate power and, in many cases, usurp power from other institutions. Many presidents in Latin America dis-empower institutions to empower themselves.

The qualitative analysis of the interviews showed two different groups: in Argentina, Ecuador and Venezuela the analysis of Néstor Kirchner, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Rafael Correa and Hugo Chávez dominated the interviews while in Uruguay and Colombia our respondents examined political leadership together with the role of political parties, state institutions and historical processes.

One of our conclusions is that the degree of institutionalization of the political party system influences the type of leader that emerges in a given country.[iii] We developed a typology based on three elements: the political context, the ability of the leader to lead and the impact of the leader on the quality of democracy. Cutting across these elements are three dimensions of leadership: the relationship between the leader and the rule of law; the leader’s efforts to achieve consensus or in contrast to provoke polarization; and the leader’s methods to increase power. Our typology highlights leaders’ democratic quality by looking at their attitude to rules (obey, challenge or manipulate) to opposition (polarize, tolerate or build consensus) and to power (share, concentrate or usurp).

Democratic-enhancer Ambivalent Democrat Soft Power Usurper Power Usurper
Rule developer Rule-Obedient Rule-Challenger Rule-Manipulator
Bridge-Builder Receptive Soft Polarizer Polarizer
Respectul Rule-Challenger Power Builder Power Maximizer

Democratic-enhancers include leaders who push for the building or reinforcement of democratic institutions, accept the limits on power imposed by state institutions, respect and promote democratic rights and civil liberties, and leave their posts on time. This type of leader invariably belongs to a political party in which he has developed his career.

The ambivalent democrat respects people’s rights, works in a cooperative manner but seeks to accumulate personal power. Unlike the democratic-enhancer they respect but do not strengthen democratic institutions. The ambivalent democrat can actually end up weakening democracy in his bid to increase his own personal power.

The soft power usurper navigates between challenging and accepting the rule of law and state institutions. The historical context becomes crucial since it can either facilitate or block the leader´s ability to gain autonomy. In crises, this type of politician can take advantage to reduce other institutions’ maneuverability. However, at some point, a brake is applied by his party, the judicial, the legislative power or even societal pressure. The soft power usurper then retreats in the hope of more favorable conditions arising that will enable him to fit the political game to his own personal or collective aims.

Power-usurpers accumulate power by absorbing it from other state institutions, either by minimizing the role of the legislature and/or by undermining the independence of the judiciary. Power-usurpers are democratic leaders who have been elected in free elections. However, some end up manipulating constitutional or electoral instruments to increase personal power, thus worsening the quality of democracy. Power-usurpers believe that they are the only legitimate representatives of their people. Politics becomes embedded in them. They generally aspire to perpetuate themselves in power.

In Uruguay most leaders are democratic enhancers. In Colombia, Álvaro Uribe was a mix of ambivalent democrat and soft power usurper, while Juan Manuel Santos is a democracy-enhancer. In Argentina, Néstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner were soft power usurpers. In Ecuador, Rafael Correa combines elements of a power usurper with a soft power usurper. In Venezuela, Hugo Chávez was the archetype of a power usurper: he challenged the rules, polarized society and maximized his power.

This typology distinguishes four ideal types that measure leaders’ degree of democraticness. It offers a framework for how leaders´ political influence and democratic quality can be studied in other parts of the world. And it can serve as an instrument to promote democratic-enhancers and avoid the rise of power usurpers.

Notes

[i] The research was done between 2009 and 2012 and was financed by Foundation Open Society Institute, Washington DC.

[ii] The quality of democracy has been debated in Guillermo O´Donnell, Jorge Vargas Cullell and Osvaldo Iazzetta (2004) The quality of democracy. Theory and applications (Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press) and Pippa Norris (2011) Democratic Deficit. Critical Citizens Revisited (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

[iii] The degree of institutionalization of political parties has been analyzed by Manuel Alcántara (2004) ¿Instituciones o máquinas ideológicas? Origen, programa y organización de los partidos latinoamericanos (Barcelona: Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona); María Matilde Ollier María Matilde (2008) “La institucionalización democrática en el callejón: la inestabilidad presidencial argentina (1999-2003)”, América Latina Hoy, vol. 49, pp. 73-103 and Scott Mainwaring and Timothy Scully (eds.) (1995) Building Democratic Institutions: Party Systems in Latin America (Stanford: Stanford University Press).


Rut Diamint is professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at Universidad Torcuato di Tella, researcher at the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET) and a member of the Advisory Committee of Club de Madrid and the UN Secretary General Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters. She has been visiting professor at Columbia University, and has received scholarships from Fulbright, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the PIF programme of the Canadian government, the Tinker Foundation, the UN Commission for Peace Studies and the US Studies Center for US–Mexican Studies, University of California at San Diego.

Laura Tedesco is associate professor of political science at Saint Louis University, Madrid Campus, and at Instituto de Empresa, Madrid. She has received scholarships from the British Council, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and CONICET (Argentina) and grants from the British Academy and the Open Society Institute. She has taught at Universidad de Buenos Aires, FLACSO, the University of Warwick and the University of East Anglia. She has been a consultant for UNICEF and worked as an analyst for FRIDE, Spain.

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.