Mockus+Fajarado=Second Place (Barely)

Cross-posted from PoliBlog:

In the first poll post the Mockus-Fajardo alliance, the pair overtook, by 2 points, PC nominee Noemí Sanín, to take the coveted second place slot behind frontrunner Juan Manual Santos.

The Gran Encuesta CM& – Centro Nacional de Consultoría poll breaks down as follows:

Santos (La U) 37%

Mockus  (Verde) 22%

Sanín (PC) 20%

Petro (PDA) 6%

Pardo (PL) 5%

Vargas (CR)  3%

Vargas falling into last is interesting, although he was only polling around 6% in previous polls, so the movement isn’t especially dramatic.  Really, since he is basically an uribista alternative to Santos and Sanín, and since the two of them already command almost 60% of the poll, there really isn’t much room left for him.

Mockus-Fajardo Update

Cross-posted from PoliBlog:

According to Mockus’  web site, Fajardo will be given a week to think about the offer to join the Green Party’s presidential ticket.  He notes that a temporary VP nominee will be registered tomorrow (the legal deadline) with the assumption being that it will be changed on April 12th  (which is the legal deadline for making amendments to the inscription):

“Sergio Fajardo solicitó una semana para acordar los términos del acuerdo y respetamos su decisión. La ley prevé que se puede inscribir un candidato a la vicepresidencia y luego cambiarse. Por eso inscribiremos temporalmente como fórmula vicepresidencial a Liliana Caballero, actual miembro de la Dirección Nacional del Partido Verde”.El candidato a la vicepresidencia se podrá modificar hasta el 12 de abril.

[Sergio  Fajarado has requested a week to arrange the terms of the agreement and we respect his decision.  The law provides that one can inscribe a candidate for the vice presidency and later change it.  Therefore, we will temporarily inscribe a ticket with Liliana Caballero, current member of the  National Directorate of the Green Party.  The vice presidential candidate can be changed until April 12th.]

Some other posts that I never got around to cross-posting:

Counterhoneymoon effect: Colombian legislative elections re-sorting the presidential field

In presidential systems, the rare “counterhoneymoon” electoral cycle–legislative elections shortly before presidential–can have the effect of revealing the strengths of various parties and their prospective presidential candidates before the final phase of the presidential campaign itself. I have long thought that a counterhoneymoon cycle was normatively desirable, especially for multiparty systems, and have been surprised at how rare it is.

The effect is on display now in Colombia. For many months leading up to the 14 March, 2010, legislative elections and 30 May presidential first round, Sergio Fajardo, former mayor of Medellin, was doing well in the opinion polls that asked about hypothetical match-ups without incumbent Alvaro Uribe. (Uribe was recently denied a chance to run for a third term by a court ruling.)

However, the outcome of the legislative elections has changed the dynamic. As noted in El Tiempo:

Aunque llegó a liderar las encuestas sobre intención de voto para Presidente de la República, hace apenas tres meses, Fajardo se desplomó tras su fracaso en las elecciones legislativas, pues ni siquiera uno de los suyos llegó al Capitolio.

[my rough translation:] Although he was leading the polls of voting intention for president only three months ago, Fajardo fell flat after his failure in the legislative elections, when not even one of his candidates made it to the Capitol.

Fajardo has fallen so far that now he is in talks with the nominee of the new Green Party, former Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus, about preparing a unity ticket for the presidential elections. (This is the main theme of the above-referenced article, and also the theme of Steven’s earlier planting.) If in coalition with other non-uribista forces, Mockus might even have a chance at finishing second in the first round of the presidential election, behind the successor to Uribe in the “La U” party, former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos.

Mockus decisively defeated two other former mayors of Bogota in a presidential primary held concurrent with the legislative elections. The other main presidential candidate is that of the Conservative Party, Noemi Sanin, who narrowly edged out a more pro-Uribe contender, Andrés Felipe Arias, in that party’s primary.

While there is believed to be no chance that Fajardo would become Mockus’s running mate, there is speculation that Fajardo’s already-registered running mate, Julio Londoño, could now run with Mockus instead.

What is the broader significance of all this? I often write about “presidentialized parties,” by which I mean parties that become dependent on their leaders who run for president. In fact, I have co-written a book about such parties, and their fundamental difference from “parliamentarized parties,” in which the agency relationship running from parties to their executive candidates is more readily maintained, even after an election results in the candidate becoming the national executive (precisely the moment in which the agency relationship most breaks down, or even reverses, in presidential systems).

Few parties are more “presidentalized,” at least prior to their actually having elected a president, than are parties that are formed for the sole purpose of being some leader’s campaign vehicle. Compromiso Ciudadano por Colombia, formed by Fajardo, for example. (Fajardo is registered as an independent, but that is a mere technicality for present purposes.)

Yet the counterhoneymoon electoral cycle has the effect of requiring such a party’s first test to be a legislative election, rather than the presidential contest. Fajardo’s party failed that test badly, and now he is in negotiations with the leader of a party that actually performed respectably in the legislative elections, notwithstanding that it, too, was just formed in time for these 2010 elections. (The Greens won 5 of the 100 Senate seats, for example.)

Other recent examples of counterhoneymoon effects: the 2009 elections in Indonesia and El Salvador.

Coalition Building in Colombian Presidential Campaign?

Another Colombia related cross-post from PoliBlog:

El Tiempo reports that ex-Mayor of Medellín and presidential candidate, Sergio Fajardo is in talks to quit the field and join forces with ex-Mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus of the Green Party (a party already populated with ex-Mayors).

Mockus is currently a distant third in polling behind two candidates from the governing coalition, Juan Manuel Santos of La U and Noemí Sanín of the Conservative Party.   Three recent polls have provided almost the same results with the most recent one putting Santos at 36%, Sanín at 17%, and Mockus at 9%.  It should be noted that to win the Colombian presidency that a candidate must win 50%+1 (i.e., an absolute majority) in the first round.  A second round is all but certain this year.  As such, the opposition must find a candidate that can win second place in the first round.  While it appears unlikely at the moment, Mockus is the candidate with the best chance to be that candidate. 

Fajardo is polling in the 5% range, so even if all of those voters were to go with him to the Mockus camp, Mockus would still be in third.

Also intriguing is that the article states that the PDA candidate, Gustavo Petro (polling at ~6%) may also be willing to enter into an alliance.  If such a coalition could be built and kept together, then it is conceivable that Mockus could come in second.  And, of course, the question of what the PL candidate might do (Rafael Pardo, who is polling in the 5% range).  It would be tough, I think, for the candidate of one of Colombia’s grand old parties, to play second (let alone third or fourth) fiddle to an upstart party.  Really, all of this will be a test of the Tocosán hypothesis (Todos contra Santos—all against Santos, or anybody but Santos) thesis.

Since we are ranging into the area of speculative thinking, my guess would be that while it would be better for competition and Colombian democracy in general for the second round to be contested between Santos and a true opposition candidate (as opposed to a contest between shades of the same color, i.e., La U v. the PC), I have a very hard time seeing Santos losing such a race.

More on Votos en Blanco (Colombia)

Cross-posted from PoliBlog:

I was looking at the vote for the Andean Parliament representatives and saw that the voto en blanco won the plurality of the votes in that contest.  However, unlike what may happen in the indigenous set-aside seat where voto en blanco appears to have won an absolute majority, the Andean Parliament results will stand.image More than just votos en blancos, the real winner in that Andean Parliament elections was votos no marcados, i.e., unmarked ballots, of which there were 2,186,486 (22.3% of ballots deposited in ballot boxes).  Basically over two million voters received the ballot and then deposited the unmarked ballots into the ballot box.

It is worth noting that this was the first time that voters where allowed a say in picking Colombia’s representatives to the Andean Parliament, and one suspects that most people had no idea what the thing was or anything about the candidates running.

The final breakdown of seats was 2 for La U and 1 each for the PL and PC.

Source for above: Registraduria Nacional del Estado Civil.

Redo Election in Colombia? (“None of the Above” Wins Indigenous Seat)

Cross-posted from PoliBlog:

In a prior post I discussed the issue of Colombian ballots and noted the fact that voters have the right to check a box entitled voto en blanco which literally translated as “blank vote” or more accurately as “none of the above.”  The average of such votes for Senate elections from 1974-2010, for example, has been 2.58% (as a percentage of all ballots cast).  As such, the historic significance of the voto en blanco has been nothing more than a footnote.

However, in the election for the indigenous set-aside seat for the lower house of Congress, this may not be the case.  Vote Bien is reporting (Elecciones de representante indígena deben repetirse) that the voto en blanco may have won the absolute majority of the votes for the seat, which will obligate the National Electoral Council (CNE) to toss out the candidates who ran and hold new elections with new candidates for the seat.

The story reports that according to the latest bulletin from the National Registry 205,442 valid votes were cast for the seat, and 111,573 were en blanco or 54.3%.

No decision has been made, but once the results are finalized the CNE will meet to determine if a re-vote will take place.

According to the story this happened once before, in a mayoral election in 2003 and the CNE ordered new elections with new candidates.

There is no indication when such an election would take place, although the logical time would be during the presidential elections in May.  However, there is a major problem here, insofar as voting for the indigenous seat is a choice voters make in lieu of voting for representatives from the voter’s Department.  As such, if a new election is held it will have to be open up to all voters (including those who chose to vote for their departmental representation, or for the afro-colombian seat for that matter,  instead of for the indigenous seat), radically changing the nature of the electorate for the seat in question between the two processes.

An example of a Chamber of Representatives ballot is below.  Note that Part C is the indigenous seat and there are a rather large (to understate the situation quite a bit) number of competitors for the seat, meaning not only did a lot of people vote en blanco but that the votes for candidates was quite fragmented.

2010 Bogota

Ballot Design (and Voter Knowledge) Matters

cross-posted from PoliBlog:

One of the things that I have been increasingly interested in has been the topic of ballot design, especially in terms of Colombian elections.  This interest was only enhanced after my participation as an electoral observer on March 14th.  The notion that ballot design matters shouldn’t be foreign to US voters, given the prominence of the butterfly ballot in the 2000 elections. ((Although it strikes me that that is closing in on a decade-old example.  How the frak did that happen?))

One of the specific issues I noted while observing the election was there was a visible amount of confusion over the ballot on the part of both voters and the poll workers.  Now, it is one thing to think that one see something in a limited sample, and yet another to be able to demonstrate the fact in a systematic and empirical manner.  However, there is a way to do so, and that is to look at the number of valid and invalid votes cast over time.

There are two basic categories of votes in Colombian elections:  valid votes (either votes for a party/candidate or a blank vote, which is a formal expession of “none of the above”) and null votes (spoiled or incorrectly cast ballots).  As such, a possible measure of voter confusion would be to look at null votes, which is what I have done below.   The table contains data from Senate elections from 1974-2010 and details the number of votos nulos (null votes), votos en blanco (blank votes), ((This is different, btw, than an unmarked ballot, which is not counted as a valid vote.)) total votes (valid+null), and then nulos and blancos as a percentage of all votes cast.

The blue years represent the elections using the old-style, privately-produced ballot papers, the red years are those using the state-produced ballot cards, and the black years are the elections using the newer version of those cards that conform to the 2003 electoral reforms (all of which I define and provide examples below).  I have also highlight the null votes as a percentage of votes cast under the new system.

image We clearly can see that changes to ballot design over time has had clear effects on vote behavior.  The shift, for example, from the privately-produced ballot papers to the state-produced version clearly increased the incident of both null and blank votes starting in 1991.  For example, a blank vote from 1974-1990 was literally a vote with an office indicated, but with a blank space for candidates.  Starting in 1991, there was a box a voter could check (and hence a substantial increase in people voting thusly).  Likewise it was harder to spoil the old ballots, and so the null rate was quite low.  I have no idea at the moment as to why 1986 had such a spike in null votes.  There was a an increase in the number of parties participating, and that may have had something to do with it, but I am guessing at this point.

The recent period, however, has a stark number of null votes.  Indeed, in both 2006 and 2010, votos nulos, would have been the 4th largest party (by vote) in the country if, in fact, the votes were for candidates.  In both elections, only La U, the PC and the PL were larger vote-getters than null votes (which, I would note again, count for nothing—unlike blank votes, which are relevant to calculating winners as well as the electoral threshold that parties must surpass to remain in good legal standing).

The main issue, it would appear in terms of the 2006-onward period is the introduction of the preferential vote (i.e., open lists where voters vote for both party and their preferred candidate on the list–more on that below).

So, what does this have to do with ballot design?  To understand, it is necessary to take a look at the evolution of the Colombian ballot.

Ballot Types Over Time.  Specifically, the Colombian system has had two eras in terms of ballots: the pre-May 1990 era, where ballots were not the responsibility of the state and the period from May 1990 onward, wherein the state produced the ballots.  In the first era, ballots were referred to as papeletas (or ballot papers) and in the second they are called tarjetones (or ballot pre-edit scan 1974 papeletacards).

To the right is an example of a papeleta as published in a Colombian newspaper for the 1974 elections (click for a larger version).  It includes the following offices:  President, Senate, Chamber of Representatives, Departmental Assembly for Cundinamarca, and the Bogotá Municipal Council.  Voters could cut out the ballot and place it in an envelope and then into the ballot box on election day.  Theoretically they could also cut the papeleta up by office and mix and match with other lists, although in practice, such ballot-splitting was rare.  The usage of this type of paper ballot dates well back into the early parts of the Twentieth Century (I am unsure as to the exact date of origin).  I do know that the basic electoral system that used these types of candidate lists was instituted by a 1929 law.

1990 Colombian Presidental ballot

Starting with the May 1990 presidential election, the state started producing the ballots.   To the left is a thumbnail (click for a larger version) of that first tarjetón.   And unlike the old papeleta each office has its own tarjetón, which makes ticket-splitting easier, but can lead to a lot of ballots for the voter to juggle on a given election (for example, up to five during the march 14, 2010 elections). ((Senate, Chamber, Andean Parliament,  either the PC or PV primary and a non-binding referendum on regional autonomy for part of the coastal region.))

For legislative elections, the tarjetón featured a candidate number, photo and party label, which corresponded to a list of candidate (like each segment of the papeleta above).  Below are the front pages of the Senate ballot (which starting in 1991 was a national district of 100 seats) and  the Chamber ballot for the Department of Cundinamarca.  Note that starting with these state-produced ballots there was a box for a blank vote, which made such a “none of the above” vote easier, which is dramatically noted in the numbers above.  Also, the chances for errors increased (like voting for more than one list) and hence an increase in null votes as well.

sen91Camara-Cundinamarca 1991

It should be noted that each of the ballots on the left are the actually the size of a standard sheet of paper and that the Senate ballot opened up like a folio with 4 total pages of lists.  The Chamber ballot continued on the back (indeed, the images on the back bleed through a bit on the scan).

By the last usage of this exact ballot type in 2002, the Senate ballot was a foldout that had eight full pages of lists—the exact reason for which is a long discussion beyond the scope of this post. ((See Chapter 6 of Voting Amid Violence for a detailed discussion.))

The 2003 electoral reform made such list proliferation illegal (and moot for other reasons) and 2010 Senate ballotrequired a ballot redesign.  And so the 2006 and 2010 ballots were substantially different (the 2010 Senate ballot is to the right).  Now instead of proliferation of lists within a given party, each party now has one list and voters mark the party they prefer at the top.  Specifically, voters can vote in either Part A (the national district of 100 seats) or in Part B (for the 2 indigenous set-aside seats). Voters may not vote in both.

Voters mark the logo of their preferred party and then, if the party has open lists (most do), the voter has the option of voting for their preferred candidate by marking the number of that candidate–which is why campaign ads usually have a number by the candidate’s name).   It is with the open list voting (or the voto preferente) where most of the confusion seems to enter in.  It was not unusual to see voters on election day calling out to friends or relatives “what number is whatshisname again?”  There is a  book one can consult with names and faces, but I don’t think most voters were aware of its existence, and sometime poll workers would offer the book, and others times not.  Considering that each party could have up to 100 candidates, it was a fairly thick book [PDF].

I believe that confusion about the votes for candidates is the main culprit in the radical increase in null votes—both in terms of voter error, but also in terms of errors in interpretation by poll workers (I and other MOE observers witnessed errors and confusion by poll workers in terms of interpreting whether a vote was null or not).   Another problem is that a voter might mark the blank vote boxes in both Part A and Part B, which renders the vote null, even though voter intent is quite clear (by law you can only mark one of the boxes).  It is even worse on Chamber ballots, which have Parts A, B and C and therefore three voto en blanco boxes.  I personally saw ballots that had more than one such box marked and which therefore were counted as null votes.

There are some needed reform to ballot structure (at a minimum a clarification of the voto en blanco issue).  I would also argue that they need to shift away from hand counts to an optical scan system, but that is an additional discussion that I will not engage in here.

Update after the original post: It came to my attention that the nature of the voto en blanco mechanism is such that there has to be one per each segment of the ballot and that there is a logic to counting multiple blancos as a null vote (as a subsequent post will make clear).

Colombian electoral reform working

One of the expectations of the reformers who advocated replacing Colombia’s former de-facto SNTV (single nontransferable vote) system with list-PR using D’Hondt divisors (and of the foreign political scientists who advised them) was that party-system fragmentation would be reduced.

In the first use of the new system in 2006, there was change, but not much. The effective number of seat-winning parties (Ns) in the single 100-seat district for the Senate fell from 9.33 in 2002 to 7.18 in 2006. That’s not a trivial drop, but 7.18 would still be “too high” by the normative standards likely to be used by almost any electoral reformer.

Now, in the just-concluded second run of the new system, the effective number of seat-winning parties in the Senate was 5.43.

It seems the reform is working.

Additional notes:

1. Already in 2006, we saw expected effects of the reform, even if they did not show up in this common comparative measure of electoral fragmentation. There were many fewer one-seat parties in 2006 (2) than in 2002 (42!). (I guess “many less” is an understatement!) The reason the effective number did not change much was that the size of the largest party fell from 28 in 2002 (Liberal) to 20 in 2006 (La U).

2. The effective number of seat-winners in 2002 was actually greater than the effective number of vote-winning parties (Nv). The latter fell from 8.93 in 2002 to 8.07 in 2006. It is very unusual for Ns>Nv, and that it was so in 2002 was a product of how easy it is to win a seat under high-magnitude SNTV with very small vote shares.

3. In a surprising way, the inability of Uribe to run for a third term might have helped produce greater concentration on a few large parties in 2010. In 2006, as in 2002, Uribe ran as an independent, which complicated the coordination of legislative candidacies around a smaller number of parties–especially given that legislative elections occur before presidential (by eleven weeks). In 2010, the various partisan options for succession to Uribe are clearer, even if the two main ones (La U and Conservative) are competing in the presidential election this time rather than endorsing the same one, as in 2006. (The main opposition party, Liberal, was the same size in 2010 as in 2006.)

4. Here are the preliminary seat totals, presented as 2010 seats, 2006 seats, party name (corrected):

    28, 20, La U
    23, 18, Conservative
    17, 17, Liberal
    9, 0, PIN
    8, 15, Cambio Radical
    8, 11, Polo Democratico
    5, 0, Verde
    2, 0, MIRA
    0, 7, Convergencia Popular Civica
    0, 5, Alas Equipo Colombia
    0, 3, Colombia Democratica
    0, 2, Colombia Viva
    0, 2, others

Colombian Conservative primary “voto finish”

This past Sunday, Colombians voted for national legislators and in presidential primaries for those parties that opted to have a primary.

The primary in the Conservative Party is extremely close–and, yes, they do call it in Colombia a “voto finish”–with counting only partially complete. The result may not be known for days. As of Monday morning–the latest update as of now–there are only 404 votes (out of over 1.3 million so far) separating the two leading candidates. Noemi Sanin “leads” Andrés Felipe Arias. There are three other candidates in the race, and the nominee will be decided by plurality. The current standings of the candidates are Sanin 42.45%, Arias 42.42% (the next highest vote share is 8.6%).

More rules: it is an open primary; any voter may request a primary ballot and given that it is concurrent with the legislative election and that not all parties have primaries for presidential candidate, there may be quite a lot of other party voters participating.

Predictably, there is already speculation that the close contest could split the party. Given that the party, one of Latin America’s oldest, has split before (it was fragmented throughout the 1990s and only really got its act back together in the last election, 2006), this is not a threat to be taken lightly. Moreover, Sanin and Arias have rather different orientations. Sanin, running then under a different banner, competed against President Alvaro Uribe in 2002, whereas Arias is sometimes seen as even more “uribista” than the nominee of the party most closely associated with Uribe himelf, Juan Manuel Santos. (That party is known as “La U” to remind everyone of its fealty to President U himself.)

The other party to hold a presidential primary Sunday is the new Partido Verde, which had an interesting and entertaining contest among “The Three Tenors.” The Tenor most “alto” in votes was Antanas Mockus, with 52% (in preliminary results). Enrique Peñalosa, like Mockus a former mayor of Bogota, came in second with about 31%. Running third was Lucho Garzon with about 17%. (Garzon was a presidential candidate in 2002 as well as a one-time–you guessed it–mayor of the capital.)

I’ll analyze the legislative elections once the results are more complete. The big picture is clear, however: the various parties that were in Uribe’s coalition generally did well again, though perhaps not as well collectively as they did in 2006 (when Uribe won his second term). It appears that La U will have 27 Senate seats (out of 100, elected nationwide), which is a few less than in 2006, and the Conservatives will have about 22 or 23 (not much different from 2006).

This election represented the second use of the D’Hondt list-PR electoral system that replaced the former de-facto SNTV. (If you go down through the “Colombia” block to March, 2006, this is explained.)

Full coverage at El Tiempo. See also Steven’s posting (Steven is there, and has been posting interesting photos and notes about the election for the past week).

Great news for Colombian democracy!

The Constitutional Court of Colombia has blocked the planned referendum that would have opened the path to President Alvaro Uribe running for a third term.

This is a major benchmark (so to speak) in the maturity and institutionalization of Colombian democracy. I had long thought the third term ultimately would not happen, but my confidence in that expectation had been badly shaken as the process came this close to permitting the referendum.

The new president will be elected in May (or June, if a runoff is needed). Congress is elected in March, and there will be campaigns for various parties’ presidential candidacies, some of which will be decided in primaries concurrent with the legislative elections.

Much more at PoliBlog (Steven is leaving for some field research in Colombia rather soon; great timing, Steven!).

Colombian presidential reelection approved

The Colombian House of Representatives has approved the bill, already passed by the Senate, that will allow a referendum on lifting the current term limit on the presidency. The vote was 85-5, with 76 members not voting.

I still do not get it: the yes votes include members of parties that had already announced their own presidential candidates (who presumably will now suspend their campaigns).

Now only the Constitutional Court can stop it. Or, less likely, the voters.

See previous Colombia plantings for past votes and context.

Colombia: Is reelection going to be allowed after all?

In the on again, off again saga of the proposed referendum to lift the current two-successive-terms limit on the Colombian presidency, a conference-committee report on the measure has passed the Senate. See Steven Taylor for some comments and puzzlement, with which I am in complete agreement: How did the proposal get through at this late date? Of the many parties in incumbent Alvaro Uribe’s congressional coalition–which had seemed moribund a few week ago–some have already announced presidential candidates, and yet some of those same parties’ senators apparently voted in favor.

Today, El Tiempo notes that the conference report does not face as easy a passage through the House of Representatives. An ongoing Supreme Court case against 86 House members (in a chamber of 163 representatives) regarding potentially illegal inducements they might have accepted, complicates passage in that chamber. (In a terrific irony, one of the members of the most ‘uribista’ parties in the House is named Roy Barreras [Barriers]; it might be better if he were an opposition member, however!)

The story on the House notes:

Germán Vargas Lleras, candidato presidencial de Cambio Radical dijo que miembros de su partido han sido abordados de manera individual y colectiva para inducirlos a votar a favor del referendo.

[Germán Vargas Lleras, Radical Change presidential candidate said that his party members have been approached individually and collectively, to induce them to vote for the referendum.]

Three of the 21 members of his House caucus sided with Uribe in a previous vote in December.

The proposal still must pass each house and then go to a referendum. However, as noted before, the only real obstacle is the congress–or, now, the House. (Perhaps the courts yet could be an obstacle, as well.) It would be a very big surprise if voters either rejected the referendum, or voted to oust Uribe if he is on the ballot next May.

In other Colombian election news, three former mayors of Bogotá (known as The Three Tenors) have established a new political force, Confianza, and will run in the congressional elections of March and the presidential election either on their own, or in affiliation with an existing party (potentially Verde Opción Centro).

New information in Galan assassination

Steven Taylor notes that there is new information concerning the assassination of Colombian presidential “pre-candidate” Luis Carlos Galán, which took place twenty years ago yesterday.

As Steven notes:

He was a reform-minded member of the Liberal Party who was practically a shoe-in to win the 1990 election. He was considered by many in Colombia to be an extraordinary politician of the type who inspires a certain level of hope in the population. Of all the assassinations and murders in Colombian history, of which there are a horrendous number, two are perhaps the most prominent: the murder of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on April 9, 1948, which sparked riots in Bogotá and is normally considered the beginning of the civil war know as La Violencia and the killing of Galán.

I was in Bogotá at the time of the killing, and will always remember vividly when my host came in to wake me up and tell me that Galan was dead. My host was a political activist, and was with a different Liberal pre-candidate, but that did not matter. This was a great national tragedy. And it meant scary times. Would there be mass riots again, as in 1948?

The next day, moving around the city was not easy, with checkpoints and military vehicles and heavily armed police on all major corners and in front of many buildings.

After my host engaged in numerous consultations with various contacts, we went ahead the upcoming weekend with our planned drive to Villa de Leyva, one of the most beautiful places in the very beautiful nation of Colombia. There were numerous checkpoints and a few searches on the roads outside of the capital, but not much traffic! And we had the colonial town of Villa de Leyva practically to ourselves. In fact, it was idyllic, in stark contrast to the crisis the country was living at that moment.


Following the assassination, César Gaviria took on the galanista campaign as his own, and became the Liberal nominee and President, elected in 1990. Above is a photo of a billboard for him, taken in my subsequent trip to Bogotá, for the March, 1990, elections (for congress and other offices, as well as a Liberal presidential primary).

Gaviria practically ran as Galán, with the martyred leader’s image looming far larger than the actual candidate’s. But Gaviria was no Galán.

Galán was a charismatic and passionate advocate for cleaner government and political reform. Gaviria, much more technocratic and hardly inspiring, followed through on the reformist push. He was the president at the time that a Constituent Assembly was elected in 1991 to re-write the constitution in ways that have substantially improved the country’s democracy.

The “new information” is that the former head of Colombia’s state security agency, the DAS, has been implicated in the murder. Some of my Colombian friends at the time suspected that, I recall, although the official story has always been that it was Medellin Cartel drug traffickers (and the possibility that it was a joint job is very real). There has never been any official resolution of the crime, at least up to now.

Some days after the assassination, I participated with some of my political-activist friends in the funeral march. (Somewhere I have lots of photos, but I seem not to have ever scanned any of them.) It was a massive outpouring of civic action and revulsion at the violence that has so long afflicted the country–and still does. There were no riots or other disturbances, yet it was a bit scary to be a foreigner marching behind large red banners in such a tense moment in Colombian history.* It was a travel/research experience that I certainly never will forget.


*My friends were with a legal but self-declared revolutionary leftist organization that worked with mainstream party candidates; some of the members of this organization, MOIR, are now in congress).

Colombia: Is Uribe’s second-reelection coalition falling apart?

Steven Taylor (of PoliBlog, and also one of the leading scholars of Colombian parties and elections) has several interesting posts over the last few days about ongoing developments in Colombia with respect to the still-pending bid to pass a constitutional amendment that would permit President Uribe to run for a third successive term next May.

The most interesting recent developments are that the inter-cameral conference committee has failed to resolve differences in a bill that would have to pass before a referendum could be called on lifting the term limit. If the referendum is held, there is little doubt it will pass, and if Uribe then runs, there is little doubt he would win. The sticking point is thus congress, where Uribe has been backed by a large multiparty coalition since winning his first term in 2002. Some of the parties may finally be remembering that parties running under separate banners are supposed to compete with one another–something predicted in this space over three years ago, but that I thought would not take so long to materialize. Two uribista parties, Cambio Radical and the Conservative Party–have already said they will run their own candidates. And the coalition in congress is no longer unified; in fact, Steven notes that when combined with the Liberal and leftist parties, the opposition to a third term now appears to be in the majority in the Senate.

Good news for Colombian democracy, but this is one of those “developing stories,” as the news folks like to say.

Uribista ‘primary’ idea resurfaces

If Colombian president Alvaro Uribe ultimately decides not to run for a third term, the question of succession within the set of pro-Uribe parties arises. Over a year ago, there surfaced the idea of a consulta (the Spanish term normally translated as ‘primary’) to select a single uribista candidate.

The idea has resurfaced, mentioned by Juan Manuel Santos, the man who until recently was Uribe’s Defense Minister, and who would be a likely successor to Uribe from within the president’s own party, known as La U–technically for Unidad, but obviously really signifying the president’s initial. (Santos legally had to resign to preserve his eligibility for next year’s presidential election.)

Colombia uses a two-round majority system to elect the president, so candidates of various parties, including the several that have backed Uribe, could present separate candidates in the first round, and then combine in the runoff. However, there are some risks in doing so, including that they could split the vote and fail to get any candidate into the runoff (extremely unlikely given their current high popularity, but the French 2002 experience offers a caution) or that they could wind up with a divisive runoff featuring two of their candidates (which is quite a realistic possibility).

Steven Taylor quotes from and discusses the interview, in which Santos suggests the uribista parties would select their single candidate in a consulta among the members of congress of the various parties (the most important of which are La U, Radical Change, and what remains of the traditional Conservative party).

Such an elite-driven pre-selection could be hard to enforce, given the temptation of any party that suspects its candidate to be more popular with voters than with legislators to defect and run in the first round of the popular election. In fact, Steven also notes that Radical Change is flirting with the possibility of joining the opposition Liberal party (from which most of its leaders defected to back Uribe’s first campaign in 2002).

It is worth noting that Colombian electoral law permits parties to hold a popular primary, which would be concurrent with the congressional elections (about two months before the first round of the presidential election). However, I do not think the law permits two or more parties to hold a joint primary to select a single candidate for a pre-electoral alliance, though these parties would have the votes to make such a change, if they wanted to do so.

In any event, the above shows the posturing of the various uribista successors, and implies that the question of whether Uribe will indeed run for a third term may not yet be settled. A constitutional amendment to allow the president to run again has cleared several of its key legal hurdles and is likely to be submitted to a referendum (which would almost certainly approve it). In the meantime, La U the man remains cagey about his intentions.

A small personal note: Back in 1989 I met and interviewed Santos twice (once at a conference near Washington, DC, and once in his then-office at El Tiempo in Bogota). I most certainly had the impression I was meeting a future leader of his country. The broader point is that the Colombian political system has numerous qualified leaders, and there really is no objective reason to believe that only Uribe can provide continuity to the very considerable successes his own presidency has achieved. The pressing question for Colombian institutions is whether they are strong enough to resist the temptation to cast their lot yet again with the emerging jefe maximo.