Electoral observers are warning that more than one in five of Colombia’s municipalities are at risk of electoral fraud during a pending plebiscite on ongoing peace talks with the FARC.
The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE), an independent electoral watchdog, identified 243 or 21.2% of of Colombia’s approximately 1,100 municipalities were at risk of election fraud.
Fifty-four of these municipalities are at extreme risk of fraud, the MOE said in a press release.
Fraud or voter coercion risks
Source: Electoral Observation Mission | Consult the full screen map
What poses the risk?
In terms of electoral fraud risk, the organization took into account the presence of illegal armed groups that have been fighting the FARC, particularly the Gaitainista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC), and the presence of local elites previously linked to anti-guerrilla paramilitary groups.
Additionally, coca cultivation areas were flagged as local drug traffickers could feel threatened that the FARC’s abandonment of the multi-million industry could harm their illicit business.
Areas where the country’s second largest rebel group is active, the ELN, were also flagged as risk areas as the group could use its influence to coerce voters to benefit its own chances in painfully slow negotiations with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos.
Last but not least, areas where the FARC is present were flagged because it is this guerrilla group whose future is at stake in the plebiscite.
Uncertainty about campaign rules worsens situation
The electoral watchdog also warned that a number of key conditions for the campaigns promoting either a “Yes” or a “No” vote are missing, leaving the election at risk of being contested by the opposition if its finds the government has used public funds for a partly partisan campaign.
For example, it is unclear how much parties are allowed to spend for the campaign.
Additionally, the observers said that it was not clear where the government’s task of “educating the population” on the deal ends and “campaigning” begins.
The MOE mainly blamed the provisional character of the vote and the lack of electoral precedent as the causes of the lacking guarantees for a transparent and orderly plebiscite.