Despite the bloody lead-up to the 2011 local and regional elections, which saw 41 candidates murdered, Sunday’s events conclude in relative peace with only isolated incidents of violence and electoral irregularities.
President Juan Manuel Santos lauded the efforts of Colombian voters to maintain the peace.
“What we showed is that we have a system that works, where we can discuss, where we can have differences but we accept the rules of the game and we accept the democratic triumphs,” said Santos. “Here the only losers were the violent.”
Winners and losers
Petro received about 32% of the votes in a sweeping victory over Green Party centrist Enrique Peñalosa, who won approximately 25% of the votes. Independent candidate Gina Parody came in third place with 17%.
Green Party candidate Sergio Fajardo was voted governor of Antioquia in a landslide victory. Fajardo, the former mayor of Medellin, received 50% of the votes, beating his opponents Alvaro Vasquez and Don Mario Estrada.
Independent Rodrigo Guerrero also easily secured a win October 30 for the mayor of Cali, Colombia’s third largest city and the capital of the Valle del Cauca department.
Cali’s mayor-elect received 43% of the popular vote. The closest contender, Colombian Conservative candidate Milton Castrillon secured a mere 19%, followed by Polo Democratico candidate Maria Urrutia, with 15%.
Five out of Colombia’s seven most important cities (Bogota, Medellin, Cartagena, Bucaramanga and Santa Marta) handed their mayor’s office over to a progressive candidate.
President Juan Manuel Santos congratulated the newly elected governors and mayors and called on them to work “hand-in-hand” with the national government.
“If we work together we will continue on the right track, achieving the goals that we have proposed,” Santos said.
Bogota Mayor-elect Petro echoed Santos call for cooperation, stressing the “importance of pluralism and diversity as the very basis of democracy and that those brings us, compels us, to reach an agreement.”
Isolated incidents of violence
According to Interior Minister German Vargas Lleras, violence fell by 86% since the last local elections in 2007. Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon estimated the reduction closer to 60%.
Colombia Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) received 10 reports of political violence across the country.
The driver of the vice president of Colombia’s House of Representatives was killed Sunday after armed men opened fire on a convoy in which they thought the politician was driving.
Representative Vanegas Osorio was not in one of the cars because he had decided to take a helicopter to Tame where he arrived safely.
The MOE reported an attack on a candidate for council of San Calixto in the northeast Norte de Santander department. The candidate was shot by contract killers, but survived the attack.
Fraud and other irregularities
MOE received reports of electoral problems from 21 of Colombia’s 32 departments. Antioquia had the most reports with 22% of reports received. Fourteen percent of the reports came from the northern Bolivar department and Colombia’s capital, Bogota, was responsible for 11% of the reports.
There were several incidents of falsified ballots being printed in six municipalities throughout Colombia. In Yopal, Casanare, 25% of the ballots were already marked in favor of specific candidates. Vargas Lleras called the pre-marked ballots a printing error and announced that new ballots have been sent to the capital city.
In Medellin, where the MOE recently issued a distress call concerning the possibility of influence from illegal armed groups, observers received complaints regarding voter intimidation in Comuna 1, Comuna 5 and Comuna 6. In Medellin’s Comuna 13, members of local gangs handed out slanderous flyers against mayor candidate Anibal Gaviria and governor candidate Sergio Fajardo.
There were also reports of buying and selling votes in 16 municipalities in Colombia, including Medellin, Barranquilla, Cartagena and Marmato.
The MOE found several instances of voter impersonation in three different departments. Although the National Registry attempted to implement a biometric identification pilot program that sought to prevent identification forgery in the local elections, the electoral observers reported multiple instances of local Registries failing to use the new systems.
The hostile race for local elections
Since February, 41 candidates have been assassinated and 88 have received death threats, the MOE said in its latest report. The organization particularly stressed the “critical” situation in Colombia’s second largest city Medellin due to “the presence of armed actors, the intensification of the conflict reflected by individual and mass displacement, the restriction of the campaigning in certain neighborhoods, the serious indications of illegal support for candidates and the complaints of political interference by officials.”
The country’s inspector general confirmed to newspaper El Tiempo that “many” campaigns are funded by criminal money and reiterated that the registration of 700,000 identity cards were canceled because of indications the persons were registering in a different municipality than their own to be able to vote there.