Colombian president’s reform proposals

The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, currently seeking reelection, and his new running mate, Germán Vargas Lleras, have proposed a package of institutional reforms.

The proposals are:

    Abolish reelection eligibility of the president;
    Extend the term of the president from 4 to 6 years;
    Unify the terms of the president with those of regional and municipal elected executives (governors and mayors);
    Abolish the national district for the Senate;
    Abolish the preference vote.

Apparently congressional terms, currently four years, would not be changed. While Colombia does not use concurrent elections, the terms of office for both congress and president are both four years. (At this moment we are in the period in between the congressional elections, held in March, and the presidential elections, the first round of which will be 25 May.)

In general, I do not like different term lengths for president and assembly in pure presidential systems. When combined with “permissive” rules such as relatively high-magnitude PR and the election of the presidency by majority runoff, different electoral cycles for president and congress promote too much fragmentation.* The last thing Colombian politics needs is more encouragement to fragmentation.

Abolition of the national Senate district would be a movement in a less permissive direction, which might by itself be desirable, but at the cost of removing the current beneficial effect of allowing for minority political views to aggregate support across regions. (Aside from major urban centers, most house district magnitudes are in the 2-7 range.) Abolition of the preference vote would probably encourage more splitting of some existing parties that manage to cooperate only because various candidates, and the factions they belong to, can cultivate votes independently within lists, while still pooling for their common seat-maximization. Again, Colombia hardly needs devices to encourage fragmentation.

These proposals would be, in my assessment, retrogressions. (In case that was not clear by now.)

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* Under current rules, governors and mayors (and those levels’ respective legislative bodies) are elected to four-year terms, but in odd-numbered years (2007, 2011, etc.). The linked article mentions the possibility of extending the terms of those regional and local executives elected in 2011 until 2018, when the next presidential election is due.

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