Colombia’s three main political forces have begun sharpening their electoral knives for the 2015 local elections, key polls that determine who gets to handle post-conflict budgets in the event of a peace deal with the FARC.
The challenge of Santos: Consolidate power outside Bogota
The coalition parties supporting President Juan Manuel Santos’ United in the purpose of preventing former President Alvaro Uribe from amplifying his political influence. The last elections were held in 2011, before Uribe founded his Democratic Center party with which he became the second biggest party in Congress.
FACT SHEET: Liberal Party
The coalition will have to consolidate power in the regions if the parties want to keep control over the execution of a possible peace deal currently being negotiated with the country’s largest rebel group.
As emphasized by Santos, “peace starts in the regions.” This conviction will motivate the National Unity coalition, as it is aware that in order to put the peace talks agreements into practice, it will have to leave little room for the Uribe-loyal forces to play.
However, the peace card has already been played in presidential elections earlier this year while the talks are far from popular, especially after a number of violent FARC attacks on civilians and the recent capture of an army general.
As no national government official is allowed to interfere in the elections, local politicians will have to be entrusted to deliver the message in the almost 1,100 different elections.
“We will strengthen mechanisms of internal communication between the three parties to foster coordination and permanent dialogue. In the first months of 2015 we will roam the country to promote our candidates,” explained Sergio Diaz-Granados, the director of Santos’ U Party.
The union was consolidated at a recent summit, where senators Horacio Serpa (Liberal Party) and Carlos Fernando Galan (Radical Change) made an appearance.
“We are backing President Santos and we support the struggle for peace in this country. We welcome the National Unity with enthusiasm and we will put all efforts necessary to guarantee the electoral success of the coalition,” said Serpa.
“Our victory will be the platform for peace in Colombia. For peace process doesn’t end at signing of the agreement in Havana. It involves the reconstruction of the social tissue and that requires an universal compromise. Parties like Democratic Center which don’t believe in this process and lie to Colombians will have to be defeated. In democracy this is settled over ballot boxes.” declared senator Roy Barreras.
However, the growing consensus is that if Santos and his government want to come out as winners, they will have to deliver concrete evidence to legitimize the progress of the peace process before October 25 next year. As demonstrated by recent opinion polls, Colombian citizens have grown weary of the lengthy negotiations, interrupted by instances of FARC’s insubordination.
Uribe’s challenge: Build regional political network
The Democratic Center party has been preparing for its first local elections, held on October 25, since the day after the presidential elections earlier this year that was nearly won by candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga with strong criticism on the ongoing FARC talks.
FACT SHEET: 2014 election results
The conservative party will be looking to capitalize on the strong regional links of Uribe who was still without party in 2011. In the capital Bogota, Francisco Santos, a cousin of the president, will try to obtain what is considered the 2nd most powerful position in the country.
The party made it clear that it must take over local power in states, municipalities, councils and assemblies in order to strengthen its position ahead of the presidential elections in 2018.
The fact that Uribe himself has been put in charge of pre-elections preparations, visiting different regions and personally supervising all elements of the campaign, is not just a confirmation of Uribe’s micro-management skills, but shows how important the local elections are for the Democratic Center. The party will use the 2015 ballot to recover influence over the country’s politics that was reduced to zero after Uribe split with Santos .
The Democratic Center has been wasting no time to get the upper hand ahead of the elections. The party’s manpower has traversed the country, scrutinizing the Santos’ government and criticizing the peace process calling the negotiations with FARC “promotion of impunity of terrorism.”
Moreover, although most of the parties are now working full speed selecting candidates for mayors and governors, the “Uribismo” has already named some of its representatives for the elections. The most important case is the recently announced candidacy of the former vice-president Francisco Santos for the mayor of Bogota.
In an official letter sent to Santos from Uribe and the director of the Democratic Center Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, the two party bosses lamented the state of the capital city and reassured that a “progressive deterioration has struck Bogota and the improvisation, corruption and ideological bias of the current administration have to be challenged.” The venomous critique reverberating through the letter surely sets the tone for the boisterous campaign next year.
Apart from the candidacy of Francisco Santos in Bogota, the party is reviewing candidates in various other cities in Colombia.
Santiago Valencia, member of the House of Representatives from the Antioquia state, affirmed that the party is considering the following names for mayoralty of Medellin: the ex-senator Juan Carlos Velez and Federico Gutierrez, an ex-councilman of the city and “an expert in security issues.”
“For the governor of Antioquia’s office three potential names are circulating. The first candidacy is Fernando Correa, a businessman until now involved mainly in the private sector, Andres Guerra Hoyos, the son of Bernardo Guerra Serna (long-serving Liberal leader) and an ex-senator Liliana Rendon,” revealed Valencia.
The definitive list of candidates will be announced on April 25.
Cordoba’s challenge: Unite grass-roots allies
A new, but powerful player in the Colombian political landscape is the leftist umbrella movement Patriotic March that announced its ambition to debut in the 2015 local elections earlier this month.
Founded by controversial former Senator Piedad Cordoba in 2012, the political and social movement is comprised of hundreds of associations and grass-roots organizations from all over the country.
The main elements of the political program include support for the peace process, promotion of reparations for the victims of the conflict, as well as appeals for agrarian reform and a constituent assembly, political demands shared with the Marxist FARC rebels.
The decision by the Patriotic March to run in the next year’s election is tied to a plan: to form a broad front, which would tie left-wing parties together with regionally-run rural organizations, indigenous organizations, trade unions, academic workers and farmers.
“We have decided to participate with objectives to improve political climate around the peace process and to transform the ways of making politics in the country,” explained David Flores, a representative of Patriotic March.
Although the movement is yet to acquire the legal status it needs to take part in the elections, it can count on strong support, especially in the countryside and Colombia’s youth, both problematic constituencies as both have shown to be difficult to mobilize for elections.
“Our social capital is considerable in the east and the south of the country, areas where agricultural, Afro-Colombian and indigenous movements are strong. There, our electoral participation will be very positive,” said Flores in an official announcement earlier in November.
Patriotic March is all too aware where the danger lays ahead of the local elections on the opposite side of the political spectrum.
“We can’t let Uribe win. We can’t let him disregard the peace efforts and boycott the process. These will be new elections for peace,” Lilia Solano of the leftist movement told political website La Silla Vacia.
- La paz en el juego electoral (El Espectador)
- Objetivo: derrotar al uribismo (El Espectador)
- Así se alista el uribismo para elecciones del 2015 (El Tiempo)
- La Marcha Patriótica le marcha a las elecciones (La Silla Vacia)