The newly formed political party of former Colombia President Alvaro Uribe risks fracturing as the leading primary candidate, former VP Francisco Santos, threatens to abandon the opposition collective.
According to weekly Semana and daily El Tiempo, both tied to the family of President Juan Manuel Santos, a proposed change in how the party elects its presidential candidate forced a rift between the three remaining primary hopefuls.
The two news outlets reported that Uribe over the weekend informed his candidates that the primary election will not be held by popular vote during the March congressional elections, but will be decided by an internal vote ahead of these elections.
The change in strategy is facing the resistance of Santos who is leading in the polls, but would see his chances of becoming the candidate for the Uribe Democratic Center become smaller if the vote is held among party members.
“The president [Uribe] called me and announce the convention. I told him that if this were to be the mechanism I would retreat from the Democratic Center and the presidential race,” Santos reportedly wrote other party members.
The newly planted convention is the alleged brainchild of former Finance Minister and current presidential hopeful Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, who is last in the polls and would see his chances increase in a vote controlled by the party.
Santos’ threat to leave the party is the last in a series of problems Uribe has been facing; One presidential candidate was thrown in jail in August over his alleged ties to now-defunct paramilitary organization AUC.
In September, a row emerged within the party over the senatorial candidacy of Jose Obdulio Gaviria, Uribe’s controversial former presidential adviser and cousin of slain drug lord Pablo Escobar.
According to El Tiempo, these aren’t the only internal political battles being fought; Uribe’s former Interior and Justice Minister, Fabio Valencia, reportedly is seeking to be included as running mate to one of the candidates and has secured a spot for his son on the congressional candidates list.
Valencia is controversial because his brother, former Medellin prosecution director Guillermo Valencia, is in prison for his ties to neo-paramilitary group “Urabeños” and an alleged to be a member of “The Commission,” a coalition of members of local social and political elites, and top crime lords.
Uribe allies have long faced legal trouble that emerged after revelations about ties between politicians and paramilitary groups. Additionally, a number of Uribe’s closest former aides are in jail for a wide range of scandals that involve the embezzlement of public funds, the illegal wiretapping of the Supreme Court and political opponents, and the fraudulent demobilization of units of illegal armed groups like the FARC and AUC.
According to the former president, the criminal investigations are part of a political persecution by the administration of Santos, who used to be Uribe’s Defense Minister, but has increasingly distanced himself from his former boss and is now at the center of criticism of the “Uribistas.”