Almost all Colombia’s presidential candidates announced to run without the support of political parties, making it unclear how the incoming leader will govern the country.
In total, 29 candidates have announced to be running without the support of a political party.
Meanwhile, the big parties in Congress are struggling to endorse their own candidate.
The only candidate supported by a significant political party is Green Party candidate Claudia Lopez. Opposition party Democratic Center is expected to have its own candidate in November.
The establishment exodus
The most curious split is that of former Vice-President German Vargas and his political party, Radical Change, which is informally collecting the signatures needed for its leader to run for president without the party’s formal endorsement.
The trend seems a move away from Colombia’s traditionally exclusive political system that long allowed elite families to assume power either with liberal or conservative endorsement.
However, corruption and mismanagement has eroded public confidence in the political parties to record lows, leaving the legislative branch without much effective power.
The parties’ 87% disapproval rating has made the political powerhouses virtually toxic in times of election, spurring members to abandon the parties to run independently.
However, Colombia’s presidential election in May is not the only one to be held next year; congressional elections are set for March.
Congress serves who?
It is no secret Colombia’s political system has traditionally been dysfunctional. Until the 1990’s, politics was virtually controlled by the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party.
These parties have long been vehicles for political elites, some of whom have been embroiled in corruption scandals. Election candidates often fail to attract voters.
Former President Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010) was able to hold the presidency for two terms as an independent, and formed the Democratic Center ahead of his 2014 election as Senator.
His successor, President Juan Manuel Santos, has used the U Party initially to support Uribe and since 2010 for his own political ambitions.
Government by decree?
The large number of independent candidates makes a coalition that support government policies after August 2018 more complex to form as many alliances will be broken.
The political parties’ demands to take part in the coalition could cost the new executive important concessions and administrative positions.
With much of Colombia’s political power with the poorly regulated executive branch, its cooperation with congress is considerably more unpredictable than in past elections.
The question is what will be the effect of this wave for democracy and for the governability of the next president.
Local elections will be held in 2019. Major parties have been banned from these votes for proposing candidates who proved to be either corrupt, or tied to illegal armed groups or drug traffickers.
This leaves room for political outsider movements both in the capital of Bogota as in the regions.
Then there’s war crimes
The latest electoral reality has become even more uncertain as a transitional justice tribunal will take office to try war crimes committed before a peace deal with Marxist FARC rebels in December last year.
The FARC will debut as a political party and has been guaranteed an equivalent of 3% of seat in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
However, many in the FARC and establishment politics could face charges for the many war crimes committed by all sides.
With traditional parties banned in local and provincial elections, and all to be confronted with war crime investigations, cooperation between the executive and congressional branches in government has become highly uncertain in all levels of government.