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.

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