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.