Colombia’s elections: on their way to representative democracy

Colombia’s political climate is slowly changing. Here’s how.

1 – Colombia will have its first female vice-president

For the first time in history, Colombia will have a female vice-president. This is a major step forward after centuries of “machista” politics. Four out of six candidates presented a female running-mate. In most cases these women had equal or better credentials than the candidate.

The only female candidate in these elections, Viviane Morales, complained about discrimination before she left the race. She is partially right, a female president was never very likely this year.

2 – The country now has a left, a center and a right

Before Colombia’s politics used to consist of a center-right Liberal Party and a hard-line Conservative Party. These traditional powerhouses have slowly been replaced by more pragmatic ideological movements.

Many of these new parties continue to be controlled by political dynasties, but depend more on ideological profiling than party loyalty. Over the past two decades, this has greatly diversified the political spectrum.

The increase in diversity has changed nothing about the fact that left and right are polar opposites, but rather than two, there is now place for a whole variety of political shades and colors.

3 – Election debates

For the first time in history, candidates took part in multiple election debates. This greatly increased the necessity for them to formulate policy proposals in order to convince voters.

The disappointing result of former Vice-President German Vargas is probably due to his poor performance in the debates. Leftist candidate Gustavo Petro was able to benefit from this trend because he was able to directly appeal to voters.

4 – Turnout is higher than ever

Like in the legislative elections in March, the turnout on Sunday was the highest in decades. This is partly because the end of the armed conflict is making it easier and safer for people in the countryside to take part in elections, but also because there are more options than before.

5 – Much of the “machinery” stopped working

The rise of “opinion” parties and the higher turnout are reducing the effectiveness of “the machinery,” an illegal network of state officials working together with a candidate to consolidate power. Independent media such as La Silla Vacia were able to expose many of the machines, allowing authorities to counter them.

Gustavo Petro’s campaign to increase the number of election observers also made it difficult to commit fraud.

Parties like Radical Change and the Democratic Center have continued to use illegal campaigning, but this is gradually becoming too expensive to sustain. Many investments made in vote-buying, for example, got lost because of the volume of “opinion votes.”

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