Colombia’s top election official is under fire after telling opposition politicians not to run if they felt next year’s elections wouldn’t be free and fair.
Opposition candidates rejected the comments of National Registrar Alexander Vega that followed growing concerns about political persecution and election fraud.
In a press conference, Vega said Tuesday that anyone who doubted the integrity of the National Registry should simply not run for office.
I am going to start with a clear statement as registrar. Regarding the cloak of doubts about electoral fraud; anyone who does not feel they have guarantees, or believes that fraud is going to be committed, should not run for office.
National Registrar Alexander Vega
The national registrar called the press conference in response to criticism over Vega’s claims that Colombia’s statistics agency DANE had deflated the size of population.
According to the top election official, the National Registry had 5 million more Colombians in its database than the 50 million estimated by the statistics agency.
DANE director Juan Diego Oviedo responded that the DANE’s estimate was more than 51 million and didn’t include Colombians living abroad.
Anti-corruption activist Catherine Juvinao said that Vega’s latest comments “should activate all the public’s alarms and alerts about what kind of public official is in charge of the electoral processes in 2022.”
Former Vice-President Humberto de la Calle called the national registrar’s comment “misguided.”
Since my time as Registrar I have not heard such a misguided statement as that of mister Vega. His obligation is to give assurances to all, including skeptics.
Former Vice-President Humberto de la Calle
Colombia’s top election chief has been at the center of controversy ever since Vega sacked 1,500 election officials after taking office in 2019.
Last year, Duque more than doubled the budget of the National Registry and sought absolute control over the organization of the congressional and presidential elections.
Vega has since been allocating funds to governors of whom at least two have been detained on corruption charges.
Jailed Governor Luis Alberto Monsalve received $1.2 billion “to contribute to the strengthening of democracy and the processes executed by the National Registry in the Cesar province.”
In June, Vega opened a new registry office in Arauca that sought to “bridge social gaps” by “generating employment,” according to the national registrar and jailed Arauca Governor Jose Facundo Castillo.
Duque’s congressional coalition was showered in criminal charges earlier this month after an allegedly unconstitutional vote to suspend legislation meant to prevent election fraud.
Vega has additionally been trying to block 300,000 Colombian citizens who have fled from Venezuela from voting, claiming they would be part of a conspiracy to rig the elections.