A fugitive politician who is in custody in Venezuela fueled a furious debate in Colombia after claiming President Ivan Duque won the 2018 elections through fraud.
In an interview with Semana columnist Vicky Davila, former Senator-elect Aida Merlano (Conservative Party) said that controversial businessman “Julio [Gerlein] bought votes to get him elected.”
“The quota he invested in the Duque campaign was $6 billion pesos ($1.8 million),” said Merlano, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for election fraud two weeks before she escaped in October last year.
Merlano confirms fraud claims
According to Merlano, who was arrested in January, Gerlein and the powerful Char family, initially teamed up to support former Vice-President German Vargas ahead of the the first round.
After this failed, they bought votes to secure the election of Duque in the second round, said the fugitive politician from Caracas, where she is held.
They were with German Vargas until his dismal result in the first round. In the second round, German left the political stage and the entire political machinery was engaged in supporting Duque and all bought votes.
Fugitive politician Aida Merlano
“Of course” the president knew about this alleged fraud, said Merlano. “Julio met up with him.”
The Supreme Court has already ordered the investigation of both Gerlein and Senator Arturo Char for their alleged role in the fraud that resulted in Merlano’s 2018 election to the Senate.
Electoral authorities refused to investigate evidence confirming Merlano’s claims of fraud in both the first and second round of the controversial 2018 elections.
Bogota on fire
The claims fueled heated debates between Duque’s political allies and Senator Gustavo Petro, who lost the second round amid strong suspicions of election fraud.
Petro and election observers had already denounced election fraud ahead of the elections, but were ignored with the exception of the fraud for which Merlano was sentenced to 15 years.
Where did the funds of Gerlein and Char come from? From corruption; that’s how Duque got elected.
Senator Gustavo Petro
While Petro called on his supporters to take to the streets on February 21, government allies defended the legitimacy of the president and claimed that authoritarian Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was using Merlano to “tarnish the good name” of Duque.
The campaign of President Ivan Duque was honorable and audited in real time by the Cuentas Claras system of Transparency Colombia.
Senator Maria del Rosario
The auditing of the counting of votes has nothing to do with with vote-buying, an age-old and widespread practice of which Merlano is the first and only politician to be sentenced in the history of Colombia.
Centrist Senator Antonio Sanguino (Green Party) urged Prosecutor General Francisco Barbosa, a personal friend of the president, to form an independent commission to investigate the Merlano’s fraud claims that confirm indications of fraud reported ahead of the elections.
This calls for the Prosecutor General’s Office, as we have requested, to appoint a commission of prosecutors to officially receive these testimonies and the respective evidence, which will also lead to the opening of preliminary investigations into these events, so that society can learn what has been said is true and what the criminal consequences of these serious accusations are.
Senator Antonio Sanguino
Duque’s authority undermined even further
Courtesy of Venezuela’s authorities, Merlano’s accusations further undermine Duque, whose disapproval rating was already at 70%, according to the latest Gallup poll.
The president who is popularly referred to as “Porky” did not respond to the accusations as he and his cabinet were on what a presidential aide called a “spiritual retreat.”
Duque’s far-right party received an electoral beating in local elections last year. Violent attempts to put an end to the biggest anti-government protests in more than four decades that were held in November made things even worse.
The accusations of president’s fugitive former coalition ally only added fuel to an already raging fire that Duque may not be able to put out.