October’s local elections in Colombia may well be the political end of the road for former President Alvaro Uribe. For the first time in his political career, Uribe is looking at a political defeat in his home department of Antioquia, where his endorsement has not prevented his candidates running hopelessly behind in the polls.
Uribe, who was mayor of Medellin (1982 – 1983) and governor of Antioquia (1995 – 1997) before becoming president in 2002, has lost significant support in Colombia’s Congress. With the exception of a handful of “furibistas,” (fanatical Uribe backers) the current Congress has almost unanimously lined up behind the now much more popular President Juan Manuel Santos.
In Antioquia, the situation for Uribe looks even worse; the candidates endorsed by the former president seem about to be annihilated in the polls, which are currently led by a coalition of former Medellin Mayor Sergio Fajardo (Green Party) and former Governor Anibal Gaviria (Liberal Party), each after the other’s old job.
According to the latest poll by Datexco, Gaviria can count on the support of 43.49% of Medellin voters, while Uribe’s candidate, Federico Gutierrez (Partido de la U), has the support of only 9.47%.
The situation in the gubernatorial elections looks even more bleak as Uribe’s candidate Carlos Mario Estrada stands against Fajardo, who left the Medellin’s Mayor’s Office in 2007 with a reputation as a demi-god for not having been a lousy mayor.
According to a July poll by TeleAntioquia — not the most reliable source, I must admit — Estrada can count on no more than 2.9% of the votes, while Fajardo has the support of 56.9%.
The polls suggest Uribe has bet on the wrong horses, as the Conservative Party-aligned candidates in both Antioquia and Medellin have been able to drum up more support than Uribe’s candidates and are offering a stronger challenge to Gaviria and Fajarado.
Former Medellin mayor Luis Perez, supported by Conservative Party senators Liliana Rendon and Olga Suarez, currently has the support of 30.15% in the Medellin polls and is the only one who, with Uribe’s support, could threaten Gaviria. Conservative Alvaro Vasquez, a former ally of Uribe, receives the support of 13.2% of Antioqueños in his run for the Governor’s Office and is much closer to a victory over Fajardo than Estrada is.
Newspaper El Colombiano has been relatively timid in its unconditional support for the former president after Uribe ally and El Colombiano columnist Andres Felipe Arias was sent to jail for allegedly illegally granting state subsidies to, among others, El Colombiano director Ana Mercedes Gomez Martinez. At the same time, El Colombiano’s competitor in the region, newspaper El Mundo, is run by the family of Gaviria and for obvious reasons will not lend a helping hand to Uribe’s sinking ship.
If the Uribe family and their allies, the Valencia Cossio family, want to maintain some level of political power in their home department they will have to target the elections of the members of the Medellin council and the Antioquia deputies. Traditionally these elections are the most vulnerable to electoral fraud because of their low profile and a lack of interest from the public. It looks like if Uribe wants any electoral power in the department that is so dear to him, he may have no other choice than to buy votes.
However, it is exactly there that non-governmental and international observers, for the first time supported by the national government, are on the highest alert to make sure no dirty tricks can be pulled.