Any country in the world, even industrialized nations, would be proud to have some of the candidates currently running for the Colombian presidency. Yet this unprecedented situation will amount to little more than an anecdote, since there are not enough independent-minded and critical thinking voters.
There are candidates to suit everyone’s preferences. As in most other elections, there are candidates representing the same old interests that treat the public coffers as their petty cash, thereby exacerbating the country’s problems. Those candidates are: Juan Manuel Santos (Partido de la U), Noemi Sanin (Conservative Party) and German Vargas Lleras (Cambio Radical); Santos and Lleras are grandnephew and grandson respectively of former presidents.
The strategies of these three candidates consist not only in maintaining all of Uribe’s policies, but radicalizing some, if at all possible. They are claiming to be the only candidates capable of continuing the “Democratic Security” policy. Given the success of the policy in increasing military presence in most of the country over the past eight years, this is an obvious strategy. But as successful as the policy has been in pushing the “snake” back to the jungle, it has not completely exterminated the FARC. This result demonstrates that the policy is necessary, but that it has not been enough to free Colombia from criminal organizations.
There are other candidates, however, who have realized the current impasse and are therefore offering proposals that are more in tune with what Colombia really needs.
The candidate for the Polo Democratico Alternativo party, Gustavo Petro, is adamant that the problem in Colombia is the inequality, injustice and lack of opportunities, which lead otherwise good people to paths where all moral and ethical values disappear as quickly as their hunger is satiated. Petro’s correct diagnosis of Colombia’s ailments, together with his education and first-hand experience of struggle, make him one of the best presidential candidates.
Another good candidate is Antanas Mockus (Green Party), who, together with running-mate Sergio Fajardo (former mayor of Medellin), represents innovative and promising methods of governing the country. These two mathematicians seem to be the embodiment of honest governance; something that in Colombia is nothing short of a miracle. These former university professors believe that education is a crucial tool in constructing a civilized society where ideas and argumentative debates replace guns as the weapons of choice.
In other words, Petro and Mockus are offering policies that can sterilize the breeding grounds of criminal organizations (even those operated by Uribe’s government). Yet, despite the merits of these two presidential candidates, Colombia will not elect either of them; there are not enough independent minded and critical thinking voters.
Petro’s presidential bid would likely meet with success in most other countries except Colombia. The FARC’s mere existence has enabled the government to successfully ostracize any person or group (political parties, NGOs, etc.) with humanitarian views. Therefore, Petro’s experience as member of the defunct M-19 guerrilla movement, where he realized that arguments and not arms were the only way to truly change the country, and the fact that he is running for the Polo Democratico party, make his presidential bid unworkable.
Mockus, despite his support for neoliberal policies such as privatization of public service providers, is considered to belong to the centre of the political spectrum, thus enabling him to gain voters in different sectors. According to recent polls, Mockus is strongest among young and urban voters who do not strongly follow political parties, but candidates that are offering sound political proposals.
There is a sizable number of votes in rural areas that are tied to traditional political parties or simply sold to the highest or better-armed bidder. The recent parliamentary elections reflect this reality: Partido de la U, Conservative Party, PIN (a newly established paramilitary-linked party), and Cambio Radical obtained 62% of the votes in the Senate. As the elections progress, all these parties will support Santos.
Past elections demonstrate that Colombians are pragmatic when choosing a president (Uribe ran as an independent in 2002). But even though a recent poll found that Colombians are more concerned with the economy, employment and corruption, the factors that made Uribe a popular president still remain on the table: the variables of security, the issues of FARC and Chavez, and the authorities are certainly making sure to prioritize this rhetoric. Therefore, Colombians erroneously feel that Santos is the only candidate able to tackle these issues.
Given Colombia’s polarization Mockus may be the best option for president, but unfortunately the Colombians are not ready.