In the month leading up to Colombia’s first round presidential election, Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus road a phenomenal wave of support to overtake front-running candidate Juan Manuel Santos in the polls.
However, as election day drew closer, Mockus began to slip, and on May 30, Mockus and millions of his supporters around Colombia were left in shock following an abysmal performance in the election, with the Green candidate winning just 22% of the vote, to his opponent’s 47%.
The Green campaign failed to turn the tables on Santos before the June 20 runoff, and came out of the election with only 28% of the vote to Santos’ 69%, leaving the supporter of the seemingly-formidable Green wave wondering: just where did Mockus go wrong?
According to Colombian political analysts, there are several key factors that explain Mockus’ resounding defeat on Sunday.
Image is everything, and according to El Espectador political analyst Camilo Rojas, Mockus failed miserably at actively managing both his image and his message.
Rojas says that the image people had of Mockus changed rapidly throughout the campaign, behaving like “an EKG heart monitor attached to a person watching a World Cup match, beginning low at first, and then before the first-round election jumping up, and then plummeted again.”
The Mockus campaign team, Rojas continued, “never knew how people were viewing [Mockus] nor what image he was projecting. The only thing they knew how to project was the image of honesty.”
However, projecting only the image of honesty did not reflect the real preferences of the Colombian constituency, which Rojas said was “seeking the image of a leader, a manager, a commander in chief,” not just an honest candidate.
The image of honesty, Rojas continued, was also not promoted as effectively as possible, or backed with evidence, “Mockus could have released some statistics [about his campaign financing] in order to get other candidates to disclose their financing sources.”
The Green Party campaign also lacked a coordinated effort to communicate a consistent message of who Mockus was. “There was no discipline in the message. The jingle said one thing, the commercials said another, his discussions something else, and so on … You can say that his main messages were legality and honesty, but he did not realize that there were Colombians attached to the images of continuity and security and employment.”
Several public gaffs also put Mockus on the defensive during his campaign, and gave voters an even less clear idea of the Green Party candidate.
According to analysis by Cesar Paredes at Semana, Mockus committed several public errors that were quickly exploited by his opponent. According to Paredes, Mockus “showed himself to be erratic in the statements he made to the press.”
One well known incident began with Mockus’ statement that “admired” Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, later back-pedaling to say that he “respected” the socialist leader. This mistake enabled Mockus’ opponents to frame him as an ultra-left leaning, pro-Chavez candidate.
Another key gaff cited by Paredes is Mockus’ statement that as president he would obey if “Colombian law ordered that a president be extradited to face justice in another country.”
This enabled his opponents to label Mockus as “anti-Uribe, pro-Chavez, pro-Correa,” for his apearant “contemplation of the possibility of extraditing Uribe,” the hugely popular outgoing president who has the support of over 70% of Colombians.
All these gaffs, Paredes deducted, enabled his opponents to frame Mockus as an “ambiguous candidate,” and warn the electorate that a vote for him would be a “jump into the unknown.”
The solo approach
Another key failure of the Mockus campaign, according to Rojas, was how he dealt with other Colombian political movements. “He fought with Noemi, with the Polo, with the Liberals, even the independents. He didn’t know how to bring them together … meanwhile the other candidate moved towards national unity.”
Instead of trying to work with other parties, for example, the Polo Democratico party, which was willing to form an alliance with the Greens, Mockus refrained, out of a “fear that his image would be affected,” instead opting for a strategy of “conquering the Colombians who abstained from voting in the first-round election.”
This strategy, Paredes continued, was interpreted as though the Green Party “was in contempt of the [traditional] political parties” in Colombia, and allowed opponents to criticize Mockus for “thinking he was the only honest man” in Colombia.
Taking the “higher road”
Mockus’ insistence on maintaining the “high road” and not sullying himself by dealing with traditional Colombian political strategies was a key component of his honesty-based campaign. However, it ended up costing him a lot of votes.
One example cited by Rojas of Mockus’ refusal to employ traditional strategies involves his failure to provide transport to potential voters, which, in “a country as poor as Colombia,” is something a candidate must do to secure votes.
“In a country as poor as Colombia, you have to think about something as simple as transporting your voters to the polling stations. Mockus considered this vote-buying, and as a result, he made potential voters choose between not voting, or spending money that their families needed” in order to go out and vote, Rojas explained.
On another front, Mockus’ campaign “failed to translate” its popularity and “contagious optimism” from the Internet into real-world success, Paredes explained.
The crux of the failure: Not planning ahead
At the root of the aforementioned failures of the Mockus campaign lies a lack of the long-term, meticulous planning needed to reach the presidency, Rojas concluded.
“The Green Party never thought they would make it to the second round and be in contention for the presidency. Because of this, they had no strategy in case they did make it this far, they had no way of managing the campaign,” Rojas contended, explaining that this deficiency helped pave the way for many of the other failures witnessed throughout Mockus’ campaign.
As a result of planning deficiencies, the Greens failed to think about one critical aspect to running any campaign; money.
“Money is the fuel that moves every aspect of a campaign,” Rojas concluded, “As they had no strategy, they didn’t know at first whether they even needed the fuel, or if so, how much fuel they needed. What little they did end up spending was done aimlessly … the money was wasted.”