At his final election rally one week before Colombia’s election, President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Sunday that he will stop avoiding debates with other candidates and confront his contestants on national television.
|Colombia’s 2014 elections|
Until now, the president has refused to take part in all presidential debates organized by universities and local media, claiming he was too busy governing the country.
His apparent change in political strategy followed a wave of criticism from opponents and electoral observers who had urged “all parties” to take part in debates.
Civilian electoral watchdog MOE reminded the president that debates serve to “allow all candidates to make their proposals public. just so like we the citizens are able to to know the positions and programs of those who signed up for the most important office in the country.”
Coincidentally to the president’s absence at debates, the electoral race has marginalized three of the five candidates as Santos and his closest rival, the conservative Oscar Ivan Zuluaga have monopolized media attention and intentional votes.
The two campaigns became embroiled in major scandals; One over an alleged $12 million donation to Santos’ chief political strategist by the country’s top drug lords, and another over Zuluaga’s personal involvement in the alleged wiretapping of ongoing peace talks with the country’s oldest and largest rebel group, the FARC.
Meanwhile, candidates Enrique Peñalosa of the progressive Green Alliance party, Marta Lucia Ramirez of the Conservative Party and Clara Lopez of the socialist Democratic Pole party, have jointly contracted in the polls.
|“I have been thinking that the Colombian people deserve to know the differences between the different candidates and deserve to know the proposals.”|
Santos, who began the race with a comfortable lead, has since lost much of the buffer between him and Zuluaga who in the most recent polls even overtook Santos in the first round.
Sunday, seven days before the election, the president said: “I have been thinking that the Colombian people deserve to know the differences between the different candidates and deserve to know the proposals.”
Santos stressed that no president before him had taken part in presidential debates.
No president was able to bid for a reelection until 2005 when Santos’ predecessor and current political enemy, Alvaro Uribe, successfully pushed a constitutional reform that would allow a second consecutive term.
“Because of that I am saying that I will go to the debates, always and when they don’t convert — like they have converted in this campaign — in cheap personal attacks, in insults,” Santos said.
Other candidates have not complained about the tone of the debates, but rather implicitly urged Santos and Peñalosa — who also failed to attend almost all debates — to attend the debates by leaving their chairs empty.
The first round of elections is on Sunday May 25. If these elections do not result in an absolute winner, a second round will be held between the two leading contestants on June 15.