Emerging signs of clarity in Colombian presidential contest?

Colombia Report notes that the leading center-right candidate for the presidency, Ivan Duque, has surged dramatically, according to a recent poll. The main candidate of the left, Gustavo Petro, also has surged, albeit less dramatically.

The article indicates that:

The poll was the first since legislative elections that were held on March 11.

As I noted before those elections, that is what counter-honeymoon congressional elections do: clarify the field. It’s also why they tend to be so highly fragmented, with parties associated with many potential presidential candidates running to show their strength in advance of the actual presidential contest.

The surges by Duque and Petro come on the heels of their victories in presidential nominating primaries held at the same time as the congressional elections.

The Colombian presidential election is held in two rounds if (as is expected to be the case) no one wins over half the votes in the first round. If this poll is capturing a trend, rather than an outlier, there may not be much drama in who the top two will be, but the runoff campaign would be critical to consolidating support from the many also-rans. The poll in question has Duque at 40%, and runner-up Petro at only 24%. The third candidate, Sergio Fajardo, is way back, under 10%.

It is possible that the surges of Duque and Petro are temporary boosts from the primaries, and that the one or two of the other candidates–who did not run in primaries–will recover. On the other hand, it is just as possible that running in (and winning!) a primary is a smashingly good way to advertise your presidential campaign.

Colombia 2018: Counter-honeymoon elections and presidential primaries

Colombians have voted today in elections for the two chambers of the congress and in (optional) presidential primaries. I believe Colombia is the only country to hold assembly and presidential-primary elections on the same day. Notably, these are the first elections in which the political party formed by the former guerrilla movement, FARC, is participating.

Colombia is rare among presidential (or semi-presidential) democracies in using counter-honeymoon elections over a long time frame. A counter-honeymoon election is one held late in the presidential term, much closer to the next presidential election.

In fact, I believe that since 1958, only three Colombian congressional elections have not been in the counter-honeymoon: 1970 and 1974 (which were concurrent) and 1991 (which was an early election called by the Constituent Assembly that had been elected the preceding year to create a new constitution).

By the measure of elapsed time between presidential elections, Colombia is about as extreme as can be. The elapsed time of its recent elections, including today’s, has been around 0.95. In other words, when the congress is elected, only 5% of the time between presidential elections remains.

Among all elections from presidential systems in the dataset used for Votes from Seats, the mean elapsed time is 0.268. However, most assembly elections in the wider world of presidential democracies are concurrent. If we eliminate these from the sample, the mean is 0.540. In other words, on average, non-concurrent elections tend to be held around the midterm. But the range is large. The minimum is 0.164 (France 1988; the 2017 honeymoon election France also had a similar value). The maximum is 0.992 (Poland 2005; another near the maximum was El Salvador 2009).

When an election is this late in a presidential term it is likely to be essentially a preliminary round of competition for the upcoming presidential election. I wrote about this effect in Colombia in 2010. That would be the expected effect even if there were no presidential candidates on the ballot, but in Colombia, there are. Parties that choose to hold a presidential primary (consulta) hold them on the same date as the congressional elections. The first such primary was held by the Liberal Party at the same time as the 1990 congressional elections. And most congressional elections since then have featured one or more primaries.

There were two primaries in Colombia today. They were not actually party primaries, but something new for Colombia (and rare anywhere): alliance primaries. There is a right-wing alliance holding a primary among three candidates, including those of the Democratic Center (the party led by former President Alvaro Uribe and strongly opposed to the peace terms the FARC received) and the Conservative Party. Then there is a left-wing alliance holding a primary among two candidates. In addition, there are other parties that already have nominated candidates for the upcoming first round of the presidential contest itself, and thus are not holding primaries. The primaries are “open” in the sense that any voter may request either one of the primary ballots. (See details at AS-COA.)

According to data graphed and analyzed statistically in Votes from Seats, counter-honeymoon elections tend to be more fragmented than those at other points in the term. The Seat Product Model, predicting the effective number of parties (both seat-winning and vote-earning) tends to be quite accurate for assemblies in presidential democracies* except when held with an elapsed time greater than roughly 0.90. Really late-term elections have a tendency to an effective number of parties significantly higher than the Seat Product Model prediction (depicted in Figure 12.1 in the book).

We suspect that is precisely because with the current president’s term almost up, and politicians jockeying for position in the next presidential election, more parties enter and receive votes as a sort of “testing of the waters” prior to the presidential election.

Would holding presidential primaries on the same day dampen this fragmenting effect of the counter-honeymoon? I see no reason why it would. It simply inflates the number of presidential candidates (or “pre-candidates”) testing the waters. Moreover, if the primary is for an alliance, rather than a single party–as is the case in Colombia this year–then the parties have every incentive to run separately and seek to boost their legislative vote as well as their preferred candidate for the presidency.

Thus Colombia’s high fragmentation in recent elections might be explained both by the counter-honeymoon assembly election and the primaries. Moreover, the presidential election itself is a two-round process, and the Senate is a single nationwide district (M=100). That is a lot of things pointing towards a high number of parties!

As for the FARC’s electoral debut, how many seats will it win? I will predict five in each house.***


* Despite more variation overall than is the case in parliamentary democracies.

** This is one of the easier predictions I will ever make. This is what the peace accord guarantees them. They could win more, if they won sufficient votes to elect more. That is highly unlikely.
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Colombia’s upcoming counter-honeymoon election and coalition presidential primaries

Colombia will have its congressional elections in March, followed by the first round of the presidential election in May. A story in El Tiempo (in Spanish) correctly notes that the congressional election will be critical for helping simplify the currently large field of candidates for the presidency:

Las elecciones para Congreso, del 11 de marzo, pueden ser claves en lo que tiene que ver con la campaña a la presidencia.

Loosely translated, the 11 March elections for Congress can be key to the presidential campaign.

I define a counter-honeymoon election as one late in the president’s term. The time within a term is a continuous variable, which can be scored as 0 when it is concurrent (same time as the president) and approaching 1.0 the closer it is to the next presidential election. This is how Taagepera and I define “term time” in Votes from Seats (2017). There’s no hard cutoff at which the election enters the category, counter-honeymoon, but 0.75 is a good approximation.

Colombia’s congressional elections come at at term time greater than 0.9, and thus are among the best examples of the phenomenon. And the term lengths for president and congress are the same (4 years) so, with rare exceptions, Colombia has only counter-honeymoon elections, unlike some countries that have a mix of different elapsed times at which elections can occur, due to different term lengths or provisions allowing dissolution.

In addition to the congressional elections, Colombia holds presidential primaries (consultas) also on the same date in March. Primaries are not required, but several parties use them. This time there are also pre-election coalitions of parties that are using primaries to decide on a joint candidacy for the first round. So, obviously these will affect the congressional elections–but also vice versa. Some of the parties entering such coalitions are stronger in some regions than in others, and will use their party organizations not only for the legislative elections but also to try to push their preferred candidate in the primary.

Chile has had coalitional presidential primaries (for the Concertación) and Colombia has had party presidential primaries concurrent with assembly elections. But I think this upcoming election season in Colombia might be the first time anywhere that coalitional primaries and assembly elections have been concurrent.

(Thanks to Steven Taylor, off-blog, for calling my attention to the article, and for thoughts on the coalitional presidential primaries.)


Colombia electoral reform video

If you understand Spanish, you should watch John Sudarsky’s video criticizing the current electoral system of Colombia (which is open-list* PR, including in the 100-seat nationwide district of the Senate), and advocating MMP.**

I offer for your viewing pleasure, not necessarily as an endorsement.


* Mostly. Parties have the option to present a closed list, and there are always some members of each house elected this way. But most come from open lists.

** The video and website only call it “mixed”, but it seems pretty clear from the examples given that it is intended to be MMP.

Colombia’s peace referendum

Colombians are voting today on whether to ratify the peace accord with the FARC rebels. I have not had time to read the agreements, and I am sure they are not light reading. For those who read Spanish, the Peace Commission website has the text. (Thanks to Steven Taylor, at Outside the Beltway, for the link; his post has an image of the ballot for today’s vote.)

The Economist summarized the provisions, which include some guaranteed seats for the FARC and some special electoral districts. However, I need to read the actual agreements to (try to) make sense of these provisions for representation.

While there are many post-conflict elections, I can’t think of any other referenda on the actual accords themselves. Please let me know in the comments if there have been previous examples.

Congressional seat for presidential runner-up

A package of political reforms is wending its way through the Colombian congress (yes, again). Among the provisions is one that would grant an automatic seat in the Senate to the runner-up in the presidential election.

I am aware of one other country that has (had?) such a provision: Nicaragua under its 1987 constitution. Are there others that readers are aware of?

The appeal of this sort of measure might stem from “parliamentary envy”: In parliamentary systems, it is almost guaranteed that the prime ministerial candidates of the main losing parties (as well as the leaders of other parties) will have seats in the legislature. On the other hand, what if a defeated party replaces its leader, as is actually quite common in parliamentary systems?* The new leader typically also has a seat in parliament, but under the “defeated presidential candidate” provision, a change in leadership would not change who represents the party as its “opposition leader”. This seems less than helpful to establishing “opposition guarantees” (the name of the constitutional amendment bill in Colombia).

Basically, it seems to me that members of an elected legislative body should have to win seats themselves (via whatever candidate-selection processes and electoral system apply to the body), rather than be given one via the outcome of the executive election. That is, the measure strikes me as a poor substitute for strengthening parties such that the opposition to the president has a platform in the legislature. Of course, Colombia has tried various such measures since its major constitutional process of 1991 (and earlier). And they keep coming up short.

The Colombian bill goes one step farther: the running mate of the runner-up would get a seat in the House of Representatives. Because, after all, there are few things more valuable to national discourse than defeated vice-presidential candidates.

* Very recent example: the leaders of the Labour and Liberal Democratic parties resigned their positions (though will remain MPs) immediately after the British election.

Colombian alliances and ballot symbols

Amplifying a discussion in an earlier comment thread, I offer this image of the presidential election ballot used in this year’s first round of the Colombian presidential election (25 May).

2014 Pres tarjeton-First Round

The photo was supplied by Steven Taylor, who wrote about the first round, and posted some other photos of his trip to Colombia, at Outside the Beltway.

One can see immediately that two of the tickets were presented by alliances. Juan Manuel Santos, the incumbent who was reelected (in two rounds of voting), and his running mate are indicated as the candidates of Unidad Nacional, and then the symbols of the three parties comprising this alliance are shown: Partido Social de Unidad Nacional, Cambio Radical, and Liberal. As an aside, I would note that we had some discussion in the earlier thread about whether the first of these parties, which was founded in support of former president Uribe but now supports Santos in opposition to the Uribe-backed challenger (Zuluaga), still used “Partido de la U” as its informal name. That name remains in use, as indicated at their website: partidodelau.com. At least as of today, it has a video animation that starts with “Vota contra la guerra, vota por la paz”, and then a marking of an ‘X’ across their ballot symbol and photos.

Note that the ticket headed by Clara Lopez simply has the names of the two parties backing her at the top, rather than an alliance name.

The ballot is also interesting for allowing parties to have a short slogan, which two of them incorporate into their symbols. The ballot symbol for Centro Democratico, backing Oscar Zuluaga, says “Mano firme, corazon grande” (“firm hand, big heart”), a clear indicator of its opposition to the Santos policy of continuing negotiations with the FARC guerrillas. Back to the Santos alliance, we see the Liberal Party symbol having the slogan, “Para que vivas mejor” (“in oder that you might live better”). I am not sure I have seen ballot symbols elsewhere with words other than the party (and sometimes leader) name, although I am sure other examples exist.

Colombia presidential runoff, 2014

Colombia held its presidential runoff today. Incumbent Juan Manuel Santos has been reelected by a margin of around five percentage points. (Live feed via El Espectador.)

For those keeping score of political alliances in Colombia, this means that the handpicked successor to former President Alvaro Uribe has defeated the challenger drafted by Uribe.

Santos is supported by the Party of the U[ribe]*, which led the congressional election in March with under 20% of the vote for both chambers. The challenger, Oscar Zuluaga, is supported by the Democratic Center, for which Uribe was elected a Senator in March, winning around 17% of the congressional vote.

Zuluaga had narrowly led the first round in late May, with 29.3% to 25.7% for Santos. The third place candidate, Marta Lucia Ramirez of the Conservative Party, with 15.5%, backed Zuluaga but most of her party members of congress backed Santos just a few days after the first round–yet another case of presidential candidates and their parties diverging.

Just behind the Conservative in the first round was Clara Lopez Obregon of the leftist Polo Democratico Alterantivo, with 15.2%. The Polo endorsed neither candidate in a statement released on 29 May. Nonetheless, they indicated in the statement their support for continuation of the peace process with the FARC guerrillas, which is about as close to endorsing Santos as they could come without actually saying so. Opposition to the negotiations was the main theme motivating Uribe’s break with Santos (who had been his Defense Minister), and Zuluaga had promised to set conditions so tough that the talks surely would have ended. The remaining candidate in the first round was former Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa of the Green Party. He too remained neutral in the runoff.

Just to emphasize further how long a shadow Uribe cast over this election, three of the five presidential candidates had served in Uribe’s cabinet.

* It is actually, in English, the Social Party of National Unity, but it is commonly known in Spanish is Paritdo de la U, with the “U” not so subtly signaling to was the party backing Uribe. But after Santos was elected, it remained the party supporting him even after Uribe formed an opposing party.

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.)

* 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.

Colombian legislative elections, 2014

Colombia’s congressional election is this Sunday. It will be the third under the D’Hondt proportional, optionally open list, system that I had a very small hand in helping bring about in 2003. Years before that reform, I had the pleasure of meeting Jorge Robledo at his truly amazing home (he is an architect) in beautiful Manizales. At the time I met him in 1990 I could not have imagined that, under the new system he would end up being the candidate with the third highest vote total in the nationwide district for the Senate.*

For this election, the threshold in the nationwide Senate district (100 seats) has been raised from 2% to 3%.** He says he is sure (of course!) that his party list, Polo Democratico, will clear the threshold, despite divisions on the left. The interviewer does not seem to believe him, and suggests Robledo could be the highest individual vote-getter and yet not be reelected.

Robledo might be better positioned to retain his seat had the electoral reform never been adopted!

The Chamber of Deputies is also elected Sunday; it uses the same allocation formula, but in districts ranging in magnitude from 2 to 18, without (need for) the threshold.

Through 2002, both houses used what was essentially an SNTV system, so only individual votes mattered.

Another interesting point in the interview: Robledo insists (and I assume he is right) that his vote is of “opinion” and not of “clientelism”, as are those of so many other Colombian congressional members. The reform was supposed to reduce clientelism–at least at the margins–by encouraging collective action by parties. Whether it has done so would require some extensive study; it is clear that it significantly reduced overall fragmentation, as a result of the vote-pooling feature of the list system (and, in the Senate, the threshold), which encouraged the numerous examples of what were effectively one-person “parties” under SNTV to pool their efforts on lists that could earn larger collective vote totals. There are several posts from back in 2006 and 2010 on the results of the first two elections after the reform.

I also have some published works on the reform:

Mónica Pachón and Matthew S. Shugart. 2010. “Electoral Reform And The Mirror Image Of Interparty And Intraparty Competition: The Adoption Of Party Lists In Colombia,” Electoral Studies 29: 648–60.

Matthew Soberg Shugart, Erika Moreno and Luis E. Fajardo, “Deepening Democracy through Renovating Political Practices: The Struggle for Electoral Reform in Colombia,” in Christopher Welna and Gustavo Gallon, eds., Peace, Democracy, and Human Rights in Colombia. Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 2007.

And in a Colombian magazine: Matthew Shugart, “La Reforma Política, Paso Crucial.” Cambio 6, 522 (June 30–July 6, 2003), Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia.

* And not only because the nationwide district for the Senate did not exist yet; that would be adopted a year later in the new constitution.

** Yes, my third post today on threshold changes!

Colombia’s re-design of its open-list ballot

Ballots in open-list PR, at least if they are paper ballots, are sometimes rather complex.

Steven Taylor offers a look at a re-design of the ballot for the upcoming municipal elections in Colombia, which might help with some problems of voter confusion seen in previous municipal and congressional elections since the list-PR system was adopted in 2003. (See Steven’s links to previous posts in which he discussed these problems.)

In Colombia, parties have the option of presenting either a closed or an open list, although a very large majority of lists are open. Voters must make a party choice and then, if they choose and their party allows, may mark a candidate preference.

Electoral reform and the mirror image of inter-party and intra-party competition

Recently published:

Monica Pachon and Matthew S. Shugart, Electoral reform and the mirror image of inter-party and intra-party competition: The adoption of party lists in Colombia. Electoral Studies 29, 4 (December), pp. 648-660.


The Colombian case offers a rare opportunity to observe effects of electoral reform where districting remains constant. Only the formula changed, from extremely ‘personalized’ (seats allocated solely on candidate votes) to ‘listized’: seats are allocated to party lists, which may be either open or closed. Electoral reform has effects on both the inter-party dimension (the number of parties competing) and the intra-party dimension (the extent of competition within parties). Consistent with theoretical expectations, the inter-party dimension features an increased number of parties in the low-magnitude districts and a decrease in the high-magnitude districts. On the intra-party dimension, the impact “mirrors” the inter-party: less competition in smaller districts, yet more in larger districts.

If you have access via an academic library, you can read or download the article from Science Direct.

Colombia’s runoff

Juan Manuel Santos was elected president of Colombia in Sunday’s runoff. No surprise there. Given how close he was to 50% in the first round, the runoff was effectively superfluous.

The turnout was down compared to the first round, as we might have expected, given the foregone conclusion. In fact, the surprise is that it was down so little: from about 14.75 million on the first round to about 13.3 million in the runoff. (See the first-round and second-round data that Steven Taylor posted.)

The second-place candidate, Antanas Mockus, barely increased his votes, from 3.116 million to 3.588 million (21.5% to 27.5%).

While this is ultimately a disappointment for Mockus and his supporters, given polls before the first round that suggested he could win, if you had told me years ago that one day the flamboyant mayor of Bogota would win over a quarter of the votes in a presidential election, I would have thought it impossible.

Second Round in Colombia

While, as Matthew noted at the end of the first round, the second round balloting in Colombia to determine the next president is largely “superfluous,” it will take place tomorrow.  First round results can be found here.

For those who are interested despite the superfluousness of it all, here are a few bits of information:

* The second round ballot.
* The profile of Juan Manuel Santos of La U that I wrote for the first round.
* The profile of Antanas Mockus of the Partido Verde that I wrote for the first round.
* A partial analysis of the first round’s outcome:  Mockus’ Unexpected Weakness.
* Some thoughts on the electoral constellations heading into the second round:  Electoral Alliances in Colombia (and the Lack Thereof).

The Registraduría will have preliminary results as early as 4pm local time tomorrow (which corresponds to Central Daylight Time).  El Tiempo reports that conclusive results will be available by 6pm: A las 6 de la tarde del próximo domingo se conocerá el nombre del nuevo Presidente.

I will have some analysis tomorrow at PoliBlog, I expect, and will either cross-post or link back here.  Of course, the likelihood is that there won’t be all that much to say as the likelihood is a Santos landslide in the 60-65% range.

Colombia: The runoff looks superfluous now

The chances that Colombia would become the first country to elect a Green chief executive–as numerous polls had said was likely–dimmed dramatically after the outcome of Sunday’s first round.

Juan Manuel Santos of the party most closely affiliated with outgoing incumbent President Alvaro Uribe, came close to an outright win. He scored 46.6%, to a distant 21.5% for Green candidate Antanas Mockus.

Polls in recent weeks had tended to put the two candidates close, in the mid thirties percent range, and generally had Mockus winning the runoff, which will be on 20 June.

However, with that large a lead, there is only the slimmest of chances that Mockus could ultimately win.

I always expected Santos’s support within the “political class,” and the ability of rural leaders to mobilize votes for the more establishment candidate, would pull Santos through. But I had no expectation that he would be so close to 50% in the first round, or so far ahead of Mockus.

For excellent coverage of the election, including pre-election profiles of each candidate, please see PoliBlog.