Colombia’s ex-president Alvaro Uribe just days ago brought together a group of his top supporters and political leaders to plan his assault on the ballot box in 2014.
Uribe has a fiercely loyal political base and he hopes to return to the Capitolio heading up a list of senators which will challenge the power of — the most likely re-elected — President Santos.
Estimates range from between 12 to 30 the number of possible senators that Uribe could win next year; however you look at it, a substantial and healthy opposition to the governing coalition.
Since Santos came to power in 2010 he has enjoyed a congress almost unanimously in his favor. His national unity grouping faces virtually zero opposition and scrutiny save from the left-wingers of the Polo Democratic Alternative.
So even if you don´t share Uribe´s politics is difficult to argue that his presence in the senate is anything other than good news for democracy. Laws would have the potential to be opposed where currently they´re not always even read, while debates would be likely to be heard, replacing today´s dull chorus of consent.
It is, frankly a source of some considerable relief that the 2014-2018 parliament will look and feel different to the hugely unpopular current crop.
There is another reason why Uribe´s return should be welcomed. Uribismo is a force that has significant popular support but that is largely unrepresented in government.
I have reported before on the betrayal the Uribistas feel at the hands of Juan Manuel Santos, the ex-president´s anointed successor who, once elected, once he had benefited from Uribe´s votes, decided to change tack and ditch many of his former boss´ policies.
As a result of Santos´ volte face, Uribismo finds itself with no voice except in the lonely opposition of the media – in fact many of its loyal columnists have too been shunted out of the major publications. In short, Uribismo has millions of votes but almost no elected representatives. Even the party that bears the ex-president’s name – the U Party – has deserted him to run to the side of Santos.
This is not a recipe for a healthy political system. Lest we forget that Colombia´s left-wing guerrillas often cite the barriers to representation as the reason for their decision to take up arms against the state.
Pluralism in politics is good, unanimity tyrannous.
This is the first time Colombia faces the prospect of a fiercely contested presidential re-election campaign – Uribe´s 2006 battle hardly counts. And the democratic immaturity shows.
The media talk of the polarization of the country (on account of the differences in views expressed by Santos and Uribe) as though politics would be much better is everyone got on and thought the same. What rot! If politics is not about the battle for ideas then it not politics.
The politicians themselves appear like headless chickens, unable to decide whether to stick with their current boss or to join forces with their old political master.
All the while the public are left bemused by a collection of elected functionaries that have yet to present a political platform, or any policies for consideration beyond being either a “Santista” a “Uribista”, or none of the above.
Part of the problem for Santos is the fact he has never had to win an election before – 2010 was his first campaign and he won that on the back of Uribe´s votes.
There is a palpable sense from certain members of the Santos camp that all opposition must be shut down, that it poses an inherent threat to the cozy order to which they´ve become accustomed. For those who have followed Colombian politics closely for years it strikes us as odd that Uribe is now unquestionable a political underdog.
For this author Santos has been a decent president, but perhaps real opposition will force him to be an even better one in his second mandate. Politicians nearly always perform better when scrutiny is greater.
Uribe remains a controversial figure – there are those that love him and those that cannot abide the sight of him. It´s an undeniable truth, however, that he is Colombia´s most important politician out of a job.
In the same way that Colombia needs its Gustavo Petros, its Clara Lopez and Jorge Enrique Robledos, it also needs its Alvaro Uribes.