Electoral observers from Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) had a front-row seat for the voter fraud that marred Colombia’s recent congressional elections, Maria Lucia Vidart of MOE told Colombia Reports.
“In Barranquilla one of our observers was approached by a man who thought she was there to pay him for his vote.” Vidart recalls “When she told him what she was doing, the man asked who then was going to give him the COP40,000 he had been promised.”
Situations like this were common across the country, especially in the Caribbean region, as “the very poor population have little else to sell,” according to Vidart.
As a result, the MOE will be keeping a very close eye on proceedings as the nation chooses its next president on June 30.
MOE is one of three organizations overseeing the presidential elections and, in conjunction with local NGOs, will have 1,500 observers across 27 Colombian departments on the day of voting.
The independent observation team will include a group of around 30 foreigners, some of whom are flying to Colombia at their own expense.
Vidart is still receiving applications from abroad, and says that the presence of foreigners at the polling booths “gives the process more coverage and publicity, as well as the ability to pick up on irregularities that Colombians perhaps don’t notice.”
This is vitally important for democracy, the MOE believes.
“The more this subject appears in the media and is publicly discussed, the more politically aware the population becomes,” Vidart said.
In early May the Organization of American States (OAS), which is also observing the presidential elections, submitted a damning report to the permanent council in Washington on the handling of the Colombian congressional elections.
MOE also documented widespread irregularities including corruption and intimidation.
People “claiming to be Christian pastors” stood near polling stations in Bogota “handing out free diapers, groceries and free lunches.”
Vidart said, however, that MOE doesn’t expect vote buying to be as big a problem in the presidential elections as “the political parties don’t have much money now because they’re broke from the congressional elections.”
The organization’s main concern is intimidation from “emerging armed groups and guerillas.”
Since MOE started observing Colombian elections in 2006, the organization has produced “risk maps,” highlighting areas of the country with abnormally high and low voter turnout, which can be compared with maps of guerrilla and paramilitary activity.
“The FARC don’t allow people to go out and vote, while emerging armed groups intimidate people, resulting in abnormally high voter turnout in other areas,” Vidart said.
Although problems still persist in the country, this “watchdog of democracy in Colombia” feels confident that things are improving.
“We have a very good relationship with authorities and the police,” Vidart noted. “We provide the government with accurate and reliable information, for which they are very grateful.”
“People feel more confident when there are observers present at the elections, you can see it on their faces when we arrive,” she said.
Colombians head to the polls on May 30 to vote for their next president.