Colombia’s governing coalition in Congress is in crisis after two of the parties accused Vice-President German Vargas of illegally meddling in local elections to strengthen his political network ahead of the 2018 elections.
Rising political tensions in recent weeks before and after elections have caused deep fractures among the multi-party National Unity coalition, turning once leading political partners into adversaries.
The first straw
The first event was Vargas’ alleged politicking in regional elections for the advantage of his own party, Radical Change, even aligning with ex-President Alvaro Uribe, a political foe of President Juan Manuel Santos, in certain districts.
The results of the elections ultimately tipped regional offices in favor of Vargas and his unofficial but well-known campaign in the race for the 2018 presidency.
Recognizing Vargas’ political strategy, Colombia’s coalition parties sent a letter to President Juan Manuel Santos condoning the VP’s alleged use of government projects to garner support for his party.
“The attitude of the vice president with regard to these allegations, has been indolent and downright challenging to the Colombian electoral system, harming the peaceful passing of elections,” stated the letter.
Vargas and his supporters have repeatedly denied the claims.
The animosities accumulated last week in an explosive meeting in Bogota, where according to news website CM& the heads of the National Unity parties were invited to assess the regional election results and explore the National Unity’s support of a popular countersignature of the peace agreements.
The VP reportedly interrupted the meeting to complain that both the Liberal Party and the U Party had intensified their criticism against him concerning his meddling in regional elections. “I hope we can close that chapter because the elections already happened,” Vargas reportedly said.
Vargas, however, would not get off so easily.
Speaking on behalf of the other party leaders, the U Party Senate leader Roy Barreras stated, “What’s certain is that there is an evident concentration of power in the hands of the Vice President that distorted the elections.”
Faced with this accusation, the president of Radical Change, Rodrigo Lara, spoke in defense of Vargas Lleras and said, “The vice president has not used his leadership ability for electoral purposes. All the meetings he made nationwide were institutional, with mayors and governors.”
On issues of the peace talks in Havana, the National Unity became more divided following a parliamentary initiative trip to Cuba to speak with members of the FARC and to discuss the creation a special legislative committee for the peace agreements.
The Radical Change party ultimately refused to attend the meeting, leaving an impression on Barreras that Vargas had potentially ordered the party leaders against going, and further distancing Vargas and his party from the consensus of the coalition.
Further, as the Liberal and U parties have continually increased their attacks against Vice President Vargas, Vargas and his Radical Change party have begun seeking alliances with the Democratic Center — former president Alvaro Uribe’s right-wing party which stands strongly against the current peace talks between the National Government and the FARC.
“Two weeks ago Horacio Serpa [leader of the Liberal Party] and I made public our concerns about the concentration of power in the hands of the Vice President and of the electoral effects for his candidates…What isn’t true is that the U Party and the Liberal Party are thinking of distancing themselves on account of Vargas’ favoritism. It’s the reverse — we’re worried that the Vice President is distancing himself from the government on issues of peace,” stated Barrera in an interview with El Espectador.