Colombia held elections to both houses of Congress on March 14, electing 102 Senators in a single nationwide constituency and 166 deputies elected in 33 regional constituencies. These elections precede the May 30 presidential elections, elections marked by the retirement (rather forced) of incumbent President Álvaro Uribe, in office since 2002. Uribe’s attempt to stand for a third term were turned down by the Constitutional Court in late February 2010 by a 7-2 margin.
Colombian politics, like politics in most South American countries, used to be dominated by two parties: the Liberals, who favoured free trade, a federal state and separation of church and state; and the Conservatives, led by landowners and the clergy who supported a centralized state with close links to the Catholic Church and an economic policy based around protectionism. In early Colombian history, both parties peacefully and rather ‘democratically’ alternated in power until armed revolt first emerged in 1899 with the Thousands Day War, which lasted until 1902 and led to the loss of Panama in 1903. Another armed conflict emerged in 1948 between Conservatives and Liberals after the assassination of popular Liberal populist presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. This era, which ended in around 1958, became known as La Violencia and led to the rise of a bi-partisan National Front in 1957 which overthrew a military government and which ruled Colombia until 1974. Under the National Front, the Liberals and Conservatives alternated in powers for four presidential terms (a Liberal government was followed by a Conservative and then a Liberal government returned, and so on). Despite quelling a lot of the violence, and instituting some social reforms, the National Front failed to solve a number of social and economic problems which led to the emergence of now-infamous left-leaning guerrilla movements, such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, founded in 1964 as the military wing of the Communist Party but the links are long gone and the FARC is now a large, wealthy and strong group financed by drug cartels and kidnappings). The National Front ended in 1974, but the Liberals and Conservatives, whose ideological differences were by now quasi-inexistent, continued to dominate a two-party system dominated more and more by powerful drug lords, drug cartels and right-wing paramilitaries. Attempted negotiations between the FARC and Colombia’s Conservative President Andres Pastrana between 1999 and 2002 failed and led to the final collapse of the two-party system amidst popular disillusionment with Conservatives and Liberals.
A former Liberal, Álvaro Uribe was elected President in 2002 on a platform criticizing Pastrana’s peace process and promising to crack down on the FARC and paramilitaries. Elected by a large margin, he was re-elected in 2006. Due to his relative success in dealing with the FARC and despite the parapolitics scandal in which a number of politicians were accused of links with paramilitaries, Uribe has maintained a high approval rating throughout his term. His presidency has also led to the emergence of new political forces, the two largest of which are the Social National Unity Party (the Partido de la U), the primary Uribist party; and the anti-Uribe left-wing Alternative Democratic Pole which supports negotiations with the FARC. The Liberal Party is largely in opposition to Uribe, while the Conservatives, Radical Change (a 1998 splinter of the Liberals) and the new Party of National Integration are members of Uribe’s majority. A Green Party has also recently emerged, and its ranks include three former Bogota mayors including Luis Eduardo Garzón and Antanas Mockus.
Here are the Senate results with 93.8% of votes counted, using results from CaracolTV and Spanish Wikipedia:
Party of the U 26.32% winning 27 seats (+7)
Conservative 21.57% winning 21 seats (+3)
Liberal 16.56% winning 18 seats (nc)
Party of National Integration 8.71% winning 8 seats (+8)
Radical Change 8.34% winning 8 seats (-2)
Alternative Democratic Pole 8.1% winning 8 seats (-2)
Green Party 4.99% winning 4 seats (+4)
MIRA 2.8% winning 2 seats (nc)
The pro-Uribe parties weigh 64 seats, against 26 for the opposition and 6 others (4 Greens, 2 MIRA) which are tricky to classify.
These elections are good indicators for the May presidential ballot. In a primary held the same day, former ambassador Noemí Sanín narrowly won the Conservative nomination against former Agriculture Minister Andrés Arias. Both are close Uribe allies. Antanas Mockus won the Green nomination. The major candidates also in the field include Defense Minister and close Uribe ally Juan Manuel Santos, Rafael Pardo of the Liberal Party, Gustavo Petro on the left for the PDA and Germán Vargas Lleras, another close Uribe ally for Radical Change. A runoff is likely, but Juan Manuel Santos seems to be the early frontrunner.