start here

start here

The Daily IKN email digest, get all daily posts sent to you next day (& no ads)


Colombia's Presidential election: a roadmap

This appeared as a small part of IKN46, out last Sunday:

Colombia: A roadmap to the May 30th Presidential election

This week The Economist ran a note (6) on the Colombian congressional elections of last week that, in my opinion at least, sums up the main story in as few words as possible. IKN continues after the break:

ALTHOUGH he is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term in the presidential election in May, Álvaro Uribe’s influence over Colombia will remain great. As votes were slowly tallied in an election for a new Congress on March 14th, it became clear that parties which formed part of his centre-right coalition will retain a clear majority. Who will command these legislators is less so.

The vote seemed to strengthen the claims of Juan Manuel Santos, a former defence minister who more than anyone else embodies the continuation of Mr Uribe’s “democratic security” policy. Mr Santos’s U Party (that’s U for Uribe) won 25% of the valid votes, and increased its representation in the 102-seat Senate to 28, from 20.

But Mr Santos looks unlikely to win an outright victory, avoiding a run-off vote. He wants a broad coalition with other uribista forces, including the Conservative Party. The Conservatives did well, winning 21% of the vote and raising their total of senators by four, to 22. But their primary, held on the same day, was so close that it was unlikely to produce a result for days. Only then will it be clear whether or not the party offers a strong challenge to Mr Santos.

A less welcome potential ally for Mr Santos is the new National Integration Party (PIN), formed by friends and relatives of former legislators accused by prosecutors of links to right-wing paramilitary militias. This party won nine senate seats and 8% of the valid votes, mainly in the north of the country.

Some of Mr Uribe’s main opponents fared poorly. The left-wing Democratic Pole party lost two senate seats and was outpolled by the PIN. A parliamentary list backing Sergio Fajardo, a former mayor of Medellín running for the presidency as an independent, managed to elect only one senator. Mr Fajardo faces a strong rival for independent-minded voters in Antanas Mockus, who won a presidential primary for the newly formed Green Party, which secured five senate seats.

For most of the past two centuries, Colombian politics was dominated by just two parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives. Mr Uribe, a Liberal who ran as an independent and behaved as a Conservative, upset that pattern. He is bequeathing a politically fractured country, even if many of the splits turn more around personalities than policies.

IKN back. At this point, we can say the following about the May 30th Presidential elections:

  • Juan Manuel Santos is very unlikely to gather enough votes to win during the first round of voting but is a virtual certainty to be one of the two candidates left in the run-off vote. Early polls have him as frontrunner with 25% of voter intention. It would be no surprise at all to see that number float up to the 35% mark and the field becomes more decided.

  • We now know that seven candidates will go to round one: Juan Manuel Santos (“U” party and probably in alliance with the hard right PIN party), Noemí Sanín (Partido Conservador, Conservative Party), Rafael Pardo (Partido Liberal, Liberal Party) Antanas Mockus (Partido Verde, Green Party) Gustavo Petro (Polo Democrático Alternativo, Alternative Democratic Pole) Germán Vargas (Cambio Radical, Radical Change) Sergio Fajardo (Compromiso Ciudadano, Citizen’s Compromise).

  • The candidate from the Conservative party is now decided, with ex-Colombian ambassador to the UK and former cabinet minister Noemí Sanín getting the nod over Andrés Felipe Arias (a man better known to the World as ‘Uribito’ (little Uribe) because he proposed precisely the same policies as Uribe himself). At the moment Sanín is a likely (though less certain than Santos) candidate to get through to round two. The alternative “logically possible” to get to round two at the moment is Antanas Mockus.

  • Whoever wins the final vote will almost certainly make it by standing on a “continuation of Uribe’s policies” manifesto. Uribe himself backs Santos (from his own party, his ex-Defence Minister and general loyal attack dog for many years) but Santos does not have the public backing, charisma and goodwill that Uribe does. Santos is the favourite right now, but if the run-off opponent can talk the same talk as the officialist candidate while offering a more positive personality the whole scenario may quickly change.

  • Santos may benefit from any friction between the government and the FARC guerrilla movement, as it would give him chance to flex his strong point of standing up to the terrorists. He might also benefit from any diplomatic rumblings between Colombia and Venezuela (Chávez is a favourite bugbear of Santos, and vice versa). In other words, Colombia may be in for a rocky ride in the next ten weeks or so as the law of Cui Bono comes into operation. Already we can see this tactic playing out, as in Spain’s “La Razon newspaper this morning we have a headline quoting Santos that reads (translated) “The alliance between ETA, FARC and Chávez is not a secret” (7).

My personal opinion right now is “too close to call” on this election. The make-up of the runoff will be all important, but until May 30th Santos will make most of the foreign media headlines, get labelled Uribe’s favoured and be considered by many as a shoo-in. However the real battle starts in the second round of voting and the pacts, political alliances and potential power-sharing deals between the two candidates still in the running and those left behind will seal the eventual winner. It really is far too difficult to call a winner right now. The good news for foreign money is that, in general terms, whoever wins will likely win on an Uribe-esque ticket at the very least regarding the economy and very likely in political terms too. The bottom line is that Colombia’s push to be a foreign investment friendly state is unlikely to change course.