Colombia 2010 (runoff)

The runoff ballot in the Colombian presidential election was held on Sunday, June 20. The first round, held on May 29, placed former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos far ahead of former Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus. The first round had come as a shocker to many observers and pollsters who had all placed their bets on Mockus, who had enjoyed a upsurge in polls during the campaign and was even the favourite to win the presidency. Santos, the candidate of retiring President Álvaro Uribe, and the candidate most likely to continue Uribe’s very popular policy (both at home and in Washington) of ‘democratic security’, placed first with a surprisingly strong 46.6% while Mockus badly trailed with a mere 21.5%, much lower than the 35% results polls had predicted for him just days before the May 29 ballot. A lot of theories have been advanced to explain Mockus’ counter-performance on May 29, but the most likely one seems to be a series of dangerous gaffes made by Mockus including his avowed “admiration” for Chavez or his statement that he would consider extraditing Santos to face trial in Ecuador in the Ecuadorian case against Colombia’s military attacks on a FARC base in Ecuador which killed high-ranking FARC leader Raul Reyes. Mockus’ flamboyant and clownish personality could also have rebutted late deciders and even likely voters might have backed off from placing the X next to the Green Party’s candidate in the secrecy of the voting booth.

Quite obviously, as I said in my post covering the first round, Mockus was dead on arrival. Any quixotic hope that he might have rallied considerably amount of voters and made the race close were quashed by Mockus’ refusal to enter into any political deals with Colombia’s traditional parties, most notably the opposition Liberal Party (of which Uribe and Santos are former members of) or the left-wing PDA, which Mockus said was too close to the FARC for comfort. The Liberals, one of Colombia’s oldest parties (with the pro-Uribe Conservatives) and a patronage machine more than a party, quickly dropped their opposition banner and rallied Santos. Their candidate’s poor showing (4.38%) in the first round likely made the Liberals prone to ally with the likely winner, though Santos’ former affiliation with the party and Mockus’ anti-politician rhetoric didn’t make them fond of his style. Two other uribista candidates, Germán Vargas Lleras of the Radical Change party and Conservative Noemí Sanín also quickly endorsed Santos. Lleras had won a surprising 10.1% while Sanín did very badly, winning only 6.1%. Here are the results (blank, null and unmarked votes are counted in the official tally):

Juan Manuel Santos (Party of the U) 69.05%
Antanas Mockus (Green) 27.52%
Blank votes 3.41%
Null votes 1.49%
Unmarked votes 0.74%

turnout 44.48%

The runoff was indeed just a formality for Santos. Mockus rallied barely any additional voters, and they likely came mostly from Gustavo Petro’s voters, but then again, he was far from getting all of Petro’s 9%. His reluctance to accept the PDA as an ally further hurt his chances of even breaking the 30% line. Santos, on the other hand, rallied the vast majority of the remaining uribista voters – despite the lukewarm relations between Santos’ party and Noemí Sanín’s maverick status. Santos also benefited from a series of radio messages by President Uribe, who, officially barred from endorsing a candidate, gave his unofficial backing to Santos. Uribe retains a high approval rating in Colombia as he leaves office. Turnout fell a bit, from around 49% in the first round, likely a result of the FIFA World Cup taking up a lot of popular attention in South America, even though Colombia is not qualified.

Santos’ strongest showings came in areas with strong FARC activity, especially in the regions to the southeast and northeast of Bogota. Only the department of Putumayo, a rather isolated department out in the Amazonian rainforest, did not vote for Santos in either the first round or the runoff. I don’t know what makes Putumayo so special – it did vote for Uribe by small margins in both 2002 and 2006 after all, but if I remember correctly these areas, rather on the outskirts of FARC activity, saw negotiations between the FARC and the government prior to Uribe’s election in 2002.

Álvaro Uribe’s retirement from the Presidency is a major hallmark in this election which did not see the change many had hoped for, but Uribe has marked Colombian and South American politics since 2002 in a way similar to Chavez or Lula, the latter of which is also a goner in October. Yet, Uribe’s ‘democratic security’ policy will continue almost unchanged under Santos, the man who as defense minister between 2006 and 2009 coordinated major actions such as the killing of Raul Reyes or the liberation of high-profile FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt (but also a paramilitary scandal and other defense scandals). Santos’ victory is also a victory for Washington’s Latin American policy, while a President Mockus might have proved a thorn in Washington’s side. Santos, who comes from a wealthy family of newspaper magnates and whose great-uncle was President between 1938 and 1942, is not as much of a hard-liner as he is made out to me. He is in fact rather pragmatic, having supported negotiations with the FARCs until 2002 (though he staunchly opposes such talks nowadays) and having been in the cabinets of both liberal and conservative administrations.

In a grateful and unifying victory speech, Santos, hammered that it was the hour of national unity and national dialogue between Colombians. He also thanked Mockus and said that he too would fight for transparency and legality. Santos has a crushing mandate from voters and a strong majority in Congress, while Mockus and the Green Party could emerge as the opposition as he attempts to regain some of the momentum and enthusiasm he had generated early in the campaign.

Posted on June 22, 2010, in Colombia. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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