What’s at stake for Santos in Colombia’s elections: Losing control over Congress

Sunday’s upcoming congressional elections could affect Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos more than anyone else as his once invincible coalition is way down in the polls. If the incumbent wins in May, the president may have a hard time forming a majority coalition.

During the past four years, Santos has enjoyed a massive majority in both Colombia’s Senate and House of Representatives.

The current pro-Santos coalition consists of his own U Party (Partido de la U), the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal-LP), the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador – PC) and Radical Change (Cambio Radical-CR) making up 71.5% of the Senate and 61% of the House.

The PIN party — not officially in the Coalition of National Unity because of its controversial members’ alleged criminal connections — has also supported the president, giving Santos an overwhelming political control over the Congress of the Republic throughout his presidency.

This has allowed the head of state to push through various pieces of what will be his hallmark legislation in his first four years; notably including a law regulating aid to victims of the armed conflict, a military justice reform, a legal framework for peace, and most importantly, peace talks with the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC.

Second term not looking all that bright

However, the idea of four more years of congressional backing for his initiatives is looking far less bright as Santos is going to have more trouble comprising a coalition than he did when he entered Colombia’s highest office in 2010.

The biggest threat for the president is his predecessor, former President Alvaro Uribe, whose Democratic Center (Centro Democratico – CD) is widely expected to occupy an impressive number of seats on the right hand side of the chambers.

The Conservative Party, the second biggest party in Santos’ coalition, has traditionally been supportive of Uribe and — while continuing Santos’ policies — has refused to endorse his reelection, putting forth party mogul Marta Lucia Ramirez to run for office.

Last but not least, the president’s approval ratings are all below 50% and the parties that support him — all run by prominent members of Bogota’s political elite — have increasingly lost the interest of the electorate outside of the capital.

A poll released last week by Cifras y Conceptos shed light on Sunday’s upcoming congressional elections, showing clearly that the parties supporting Santos’ re-election, the U, LP and CR, have all shrunk significantly in public support since taking part in the government.

Congressional election poll

Santos joining teams with Uribe?

While the three parties supporting Santos’ reelection are currently holding a little over 50% of the Senate seats, the Polimetro poll shows these parties would obtain no more than 33% of the Senate votes this Sunday. Even if Santos is able to convince the Conservatives to take part in his coalition again, he would only obtain 41%.

Meanwhile former President Alvaro Uribe’s political party, the Democratic Center (Centro Democratico-CD), has seen a meteoric rise after its formation last year, reportedly ready to take 20% of the seats in the Senate. Another 20% of voters said to still not have decided on who to vote for.

Unless the 20% of undecided voters decide for one of Santos’ desired coalition parties, the president might have to expand his coalition with small left-wing opposition parties like the Green Alliance Party (Alianza Verde-AV), the Democratic Pole (Polo Democratico-PD) or the reformed Patriotic Union (Union Patriotica-UP).

If that’s not possible, and Santos must look to the right to obtain a majority, he will not be able to form a coalition without the involvement of Uribe, who has been leading the Democratic Center as one of the president’s most outspoken critics while having strong influence over the Conservative Party.

The PIN, a staunch supporter of Uribe, decided not to take part in the upcoming election and will not be available when the coalition is formed.

Senate composition vs Cifras y Conceptos forecast

Either way, if Santos wins his own election in May — he currently leads all other candidates in most polls — his fight for political power will just be beginning.

Sunday’s congressional election may mean a lot for those individual candidates running, but perhaps no one will have his eyes glued to the exit polls more that Juan Manuel Santos.



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