Colombia local polls close after peaceful, but corruption-ridden elections

Colombia’s polling station closed doors at 4PM local time after a relatively peaceful local election day that did see hundreds of complaints about fraud and electoral irregularities.

The country’s Defense Minister reported no public order alterations in the hours polling stations in all of Colombia’s approximately 1,100 municipalities were open.

One soldier was killed, however, hours before polling began in Anori, a municipality in the troubled Uraba region.

According to the ministry, local ELN rebels shot a soldier who was on his way to provide security at a polling station in the town.

The FARC, the country’s largest rebel group, carried out no attacks. This group is currently holding formal talks with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos and has ordered its troops to abstain from attacks.

While political violence did occur in the weeks before the elections, “criminal acts against candidates, campaigns and voters in these polls have reduced 75% compared to the [local] elections in 2000. Compared to the year 2011 we have registered a 43% drop of this kind of actions,” Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said.

However, illegal campaigning by candidates continued. A former House Representative was found carrying $180,000 during a routine check. According to the public prosecution, 28 people were arrested with a total of $600,000 supposedly meant for vote-buying.

Large quantities of meals and building materials allegedly meant to buy votes were seized across the country. Twenty-two people were arrested for crimes related to the elections, said the MOE.

“Until know what concerns the most is the corruption,”said Alejandra Barrios of the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE), a civilian electoral watchdog.

“We are seeing the the management of the resources of these political campaigns, the number of arrests that have been made indicate there exists a complete laxness of political organizations to have their candidates elected,” Barrios said.

According to the the MOE, it received 257 complaints about vote-buying.

Additionally, observers have seen large numbers of people being transported between towns, possibly to commit electoral fraud.

While “the MOE acknowledges the efforts made by authorities,” also on the state’s side not everything went as it should, Barrios’ organization said.

After the polls had closed, the organization said it had received complaints on 847 alleged irregularities, mainly in economically important provinces like Valle del Cauca, Antioquia and Bolivar.

Citing security reasons, the observers were forced to retreat from monitoring elections in three towns and registered public order disturbances in eight other towns.

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