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.