Despite efforts by Colombia’s national authorities and independent electoral observers, indications that fraud and violence will mar Sunday’s local elections are as clear as ever.
Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez told Blu Radio on Saturday that the government has received more than 6,000 complaints about election fraud.
More than half of the complaints were forwarded by the independent Electoral Observation Mission (MOE), which received more than 3,600 complaints.
The question is how much fraud will have gone undetected after the polls close at 4PM and the delicate process of vote-counting begins.
What is clear is that corruption is widespread; contrary to countries where corruption in low and local elections generally have a lower turnout than general elections, in Colombia this is reversed.
In 2015, 60.4% of eligible voters took part in Colombia’s local elections while 54% took part in the first round of the 2018 presidential elections. In contrast, voter turnout in England’s 2018 local elections was only 35% while the turnout in the UK’s general elections was 68.8%
Colombia’s election turnout compared to the world’s most democratic countries
Antioquia leading fraud complaint count
According to the MOE, the province with by far the most fraud complaints was Antioquia, the country’s second largest economy after Bogota. In the capital most complaints on a municipal level were registered.
Pre-election complaints per 100,000 inhabitants
In all of the five cities where most fraud complaints were filed, local authorities were allegedly involved in illegal campaigning. In Medellin, the capital of Antioquia, outgoing Mayor Federico Gutierrez is already under investigation.
Cities where most complaints were filed
Unprecedented anti-corruption offensive
More than 30% of the filed complaints have been forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s Office.
Both national authorities and independent electoral observers have significantly stepped up efforts to curb election fraud amid alerts of increased attempt to corrupt the elections.
In an unprecedented move, Colombia’s National Registry last month canceled more than a million ID cards of 36.6 million registered voters on suspicion these would be used for fraud.
Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez told radio station Blu that 1,500 candidates have been revoked.
How much these actions have reduced fraud is incalculable. It is entirely unclear how many of the 116,000 candidates and estimated 20 million voters engage in fraud.
According to MOE, the National Electoral Council (CNE) has been unable to timely process appeals of citizens whose ID card has been canceled.
After the process of registration of 3’686.221 citizens, the annulment of 1’065.741 (29%) of these registrations, and the filing of an enormous number of appeals to revoke these cancellations, to this day (less than a week before the elections) the National Electoral Council continues to make changes to the electoral census.
Electoral Observation Mission
The MOE additionally warned that incumbent mayors in 20% of the municipalities have put their own employees instead of citizens in charge of vote-counting.
Warnings for violence
MOE director Alejandra Barrios warned there are clear indications that violent outbreaks against vote-counting office in some 20 rural municipalities throughout Colombia are being prepared.
After the 2015 elections, followers of losing candidates took part in riots in 72 municipalities. One third of this violence broke out while the elections were ongoing. The rest took place after the vote-counting process had begun.
MOE urged police authorities to reinforce security in these municipalities.