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: 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!