After fierce campaigning, several scandals, and only two fully attended debates, Colombia on Sunday votes to elect a new president. None of the five candidates is estimated to secure more than 50% of the votes, making a second round likely.
|Colombia’s 2014 elections
If a subsequent run-off is necessary, Colombians will take to the polls for a second round of voting on June 15, and select their next leader from the two candidates who receive the most votes on election day.
Scandals and criminal accusations have blazed through candidates’ credibility, causing many analysts to call campaigning leading up to the 2014 presidential elections the “dirtiest” in Colombia’s history.
Nevertheless, electoral watchdogs are confident that Sunday will be a peaceful day of voting as rebel groups FARC and ELN, at war with the state since 1964, have called a unilateral ceasefire for the duration of the elections.
Carlos Pinzon, the country’s Minister of Defense stated that over half of Colombia’s Armed Forces will be covering 99.52% of all polling stations to secure peaceful elections.
Over 16 million — less than half — of 33 million eligible Colombians are expected to cast their ballot for their preferred candidate on May 25.
The managing of ongoing peace talks with the FARC, the largest of the rebel groups, and a number of social and political crises that blew up while Santos was in office has weakened the president’s bid for reelection. However, while scoring relatively low in approval ratings, the president is almost certain to be competing in a second-round run off in mid June, according to all pollsters.
The controversial and secretive negotiations to end 50 years of violence coincide with ongoing crises in health care, education, labor, the judicial and prison system, and the rural economy.
Hotly contested election held in midst of controversial peace talks
This accumulation of controversial topics has fueled the opposition to contest Santos’ sought-after second term.
Shortly after launching his campaign, one of Santos’ chief political strategists was forced to resign when a Colombian drug lord’s testimony before US prosecutors was leaked to Colombian media.
According to media, drug lord “Comba” told the prosecutors that he and other top drug lords had paid spin doctor Juan Jose Rendon $12 million to promote a proposal to negotiate their surrender and jointly dismantle existing drug trafficking routes to prevent emerging groups from taking over.
One day after Rendon’s resignation, prosecutors stormed an alleged wiretapping operation in Bogota, arrested a hacker who was accused of wiretapping the peace talks and receiving classified military information.
Rival Oscar Ivan Zuluaga lost his campaign manager after national television network RCN reported that campaign manager Luis Alfonso Hoyos and the wiretapping subject had visited their newsroom to provide them with information about the FARC and the president.
To make thing worse for the candidate who has been most vociferous critic of the peace talks, a video appeared eight days ago of Zuluaga being informed on strategic intelligence related to the campaign, which spurred other candidates to demand Zuluaga’s withdrawal from the race. A court allowed an urgent petition filed by a civilian that sought the cancellation of Zuluaga’s candidacy in the election.
While the majority of the media attention went to Zuluaga, another three career politicians have been vying to secure residency at Colombia’s presidential palace.
Who are the options?
President Juan Manuel Santos is running for re-election, and is the favorite to take away the most votes in this first round according to most polls. Santos has struggled a lot however since being inaugurated in 2010 having faced massive strikes that paralyzed several parts of the country, failed to push promised justice reform through his politically controlled congress, and recently been accused of indirectly receiving drug money through his now dismissed campaign manager. The president only showed up to two debates leaving little opportunity for his opponents to challenge him on these matters.
PROFILE: Juan Manuel Santos
Santos’ main talking point has been championing ongoing peace talks between the government and the country’s oldest guerrilla group, the FARC. Peace is the foundation of his campaign.
Oscar Ivan Zuluaga is running as the candidate of former President Alvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center (Centro Democratico – CD) party. He has been predicted by all polls to be the likely challenger to Santos in a second round of elections. Though it is unclear if Colombia will still support Zuluaga after he and his campaign was flooded with scandals in the weeks leading up to Sunday.
PROFILE: Oscar Ivan Zuluaga
In short, the candidate who has been referred to as “Uribe’s puppet,” was caught on video allegedly receiving illegally obtained classified information regarding the peace dialogues in Havana, Cuba. Zuluaga became tangled in his own web of contradicting statements regarding the incident, which could affect the former Minister of Finance in the voting booths. However there remains a lot of popular support for now Senator-elect Uribe — who is no stranger to criminal allegations himself — which means that Zuluaga could still very likely ride his mentor’s popularity into a run off with Santos.
Clara Lopez is representing the leftist Democratic Pole (Polo Democratico – PD) party and has been the only aspirant to refrain from aggressively bashing and attacking other candidates. The socialist leaning politician has managed to avoid scandal herself over her long career in the public sector, though the downfall of Bogota’s former mayor, Samuel Moreno — for whom Lopez was a chief advisor — over corruption allegations, nearly took the presidential hopeful down as well.
PROFILE: Clara Lopez
Lopez told Colombia Reports she hoped to create a “new majority” in Colombia approaching Sunday, and she has managed to mobilize much of the country’s youth in her support. However recent polls have shown a slow growth over her year and a half long campaign and she is predicted to gain just around 10% of the vote.
Enrique Peñalosa officially joined the presidential race last, winning the Green Alliance (Alianza Verde – AV) party’s primary in early March. As a former mayor of Bogota, Peñalosa has marketed himself as a strong supporter of innovative urban growth strategies and is often seen on a bicycle in campaign materials.
PROFILE: Enrique Peñalosa
While the centrist politician was once predicted to defeat Santos in a second round run off — at that point he was also tied with Zuluaga for second place in the first round — his polling numbers have taken a nose dive placing him in fourth place in some surveys. While he told Colombia Reports that the reason for his demise is because he doesn’t make “lying political promises” as other candidates do, his struggling numbers could also be related to his refusal to put up billboards out of “principle,” his less than stellar online presence, and his inability to show up to most presidential debates like Santos.
Peñalosa is the only opposition candidate to have lost potential voters from April to May across most polls. Notable figures of the Progressive Party, one of the primary political parties that makes up the AV, have also endorsed other candidates instead of Peñalosa.
Marta Lucia Ramirez is running for the Conservative Party, which officially supports President Santos in Congress. Colombia’s first female Minister of Defense has consistently been in last place according to most surveys, but only by a margin of less than 2% recently. Ramirez’s policies are a right-wing hybrid of Zuluaga and Santos, though the former Uribe-loyal has become the two front-runners’ biggest critics in the wake of their recent scandals. The conservative candidate spent more time during recently televised debates challenging Zuluaga and Santos than she did expressing her own proposals.
PROFILE: Marta Lucia Ramirez
One of Ramirez’s biggest challenges over the course of her campaign has been in-fighting with her own party. The Conservative Party president tried to void her candidacy at one point, due to the fact that they disagree on several issues. Ramirez has spent a large amount of money out of her own pocket for her minimal growth campaign.
Finally, citizens also have the option to vote blank, or protest the five candidates. If the blank votes gets a simple majority in the first round on Sunday, all five candidates would be disqualified from the race, and parties would be given the option to put forth a new set of candidates if they wish.
Candidates proposals on
What’s at stake?
Perhaps the most important issue that will face the new president will be how to handle ongoing peace talks with the FARC, with whom the government has been in an armed conflict for 50 years.
The government and the FARC have been negotiating now for a year and a half in Havana, Cuba, and the two delegations have already come to three agreements on drug trafficking, agrarian reform, and political participation. The issues of victims, demobilization, and eventual implementation remain on the table to be discussed.
Santos and Peñalosa have said they would continue the peace talks as is, with minimal change. Lopez would continue the peace talks, but make alterations such as including women in the negotiations. Ramirez has said that she does not approve of the dialogues as they are being conducted now, and would implement radical changes such as deadlines for a peace deal. Zuluaga, parroting his political patron and mentor Uribe, would put an end to the dialogues.
Polling stations open at 8 AM and will stay open until 4 PM local time. Results will be posted on the National Registry’s website and synthesized by Colombia Reports throughout the afternoon and evening.
The new president would take office on August 7, 2014.
- La campaña electoral en Colombia: la “más sucia” de su historia (BBC Mundo)
- National Registry (Registraduria)