Colombia 2014

Legislative elections were held in Colombia on March 9, 2014. All 167 seats in the Chamber of Representative (Cámara de Representantes) and all 102 seats in the Senate of the Republic (Senado de la República), the two houses which make up the National Congress (Congreso Nacional) were up for reelection. The five Colombian members of the Andean Parliament (Parlamento Andino) were also up for reelection.

The Chamber of Representatives, the lower house, is made up of 162 seats elected in 33 multi-member circunscripciones territoriales – that is, Colombia’s 32 departments and the capital district of Bogotá. Each department has at least two seats, with an additional seat for every 365,000 inhabitants or fraction greater than 182,500 inhabitants in excess of the first 365,000 inhabitants. The capital district of Bogotá has the most seats, 18, followed by the departments of Antioquia (17) and Valle del Cauca (13). The distribution of seats between the departments is detailed in this presidential decree from 2013 setting the number of seats. The remaining five seats in the Chamber are split between two seats elected by Afro-Colombians, one seat elected by native indigenous Colombians and two seats elected by Colombian citizens living outside the country.

The Senate, the upper house, is made up of 102 seats. 100 of these seats are elected at-large, in a nationwide constituency (circunscripción nacional), while the remaining two seats are elected in a nationwide constituency for indigenous native Colombians.

Congress is elected by party-list proportional representation, with seats distributed according to the largest remainders method. The two houses of Congress and the Andean Parliament are elected on separate ballots. When voting for the Senate and Chamber, voters must choose whether they will vote in the national/territorial constituencies or if they will vote in one of the special constituencies (for the Senate, the indigenous seats; for the Chamber, the Afro-Colombian seats or the indigenous seats) – they may only vote in one constituency. The vote may be preferential or non-preferential – the choice is up to the political parties, who either decide to present a closed list of ranked candidates or an open list. If the party run a closed list, voters only mark the logo of the party. If the party runs an open list, voters must vote for a single candidate (marking the box with their chosen candidate’s number, or marking both the party logo box and the candidate number box). On all ballots for all constituencies, there is also an option to officially cast a blank/white vote (voto en blanco).


I posted a very lengthy election preview, detailing all the historical background to Colombian politics and recent happenings. These congressional elections serve as a sort of dress rehearsal for the presidential elections, the first round of which will be held on May 25.

President Juan Manuel Santos, first elected in 2010, will be running for reelection on May 25. Santos was elected to the presidency with the support of Álvaro Uribe, and by presenting himself as Uribe’s somewhat natural successor. Elected in 2002, Álvaro Uribe, a former Liberal who had been governor of Antioquia department (centered around Medellín) in the 1990s, was widely known in Colombia and abroad for his tough, uncompromsing stance (‘democratic security’) against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, FARC), the leftist guerrillas-cum-narcoterrorists who have been the most active and violent anti-governmental guerrilla group in Colombia since the mid-1960s.

When Uribe took office in 2002, Colombia was in a chaotic state: guerrilla violence had increased significantly since the late 1990s, in the forms of murders, kidnappings, extortion; at the other extreme, far-right paramilitaries, financed by drug trafficking and assisted by many in government and the military, had grown in size, power and influence and were behind the massacres of hundreds of civilians in the countryside. Between 1998 and 2002, an attempt to reach a negotiated settlement with the FARC in exchange for the concession of a large demilitarized zone to the FARC had ended in disaster; the FARC using that DMZ to rearm, train and continue their campaign of terror. Just months before the 2002 election, Bogotá, exasperated, ordered the army to retake the DMZ. Uribe promised a hard line against the FARC – there would be no peace until armed groups agreed to demobilize on the state’s terms. Uribe was elected in a landslide. In 2006, having managed to amend the constitution to allow consecutive reelection, he was reelected in a landslide again.

In office, Uribe successfully managed to significantly reduce the toll of political violence on the country – under his two terms in office, the homicide rate fell significantly. The largest paramilitary group, the United Self-Defenses of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, AUC), were demobilized gradually between 2003 and 2006. Uribe’s government claimed success and argued it had balanced the considerations of peace and justice. However, the demobilization was rife with controversy: the government was found to be lenient on the paramilitaries and a 2005 ‘justice and peace law’ passed by Congress offered shortened jail sentences to paramilitary leaders if they confessed (even if only partially) some of their crimes. Since the demobilization, many demobilized paramilitaries have recycled themselves in new criminal gangs, which may have as many as 6,000-10,000 members. Beginning in 2006, the parapolítica (parapolitics) scandal revealed to the general public the extent of ties between the murderous paramilitaries and high-ranking politicians (ministers, governors, congressmen, military officers). Most of those politicians implicated in the parapolitics scandal were supporters of President Uribe.

The government’s military strategy against the FARC began paying off, especially in 2008: in March, a cross-border raid in Ecuador killed the FARC’s second-in-command, Raúl Reyes (sparking a diplomatic row with Ecuador and Venezuela); in July, the military successfully rescued several FARC hostages, including the most well known of them, Ingrid Betancourt, a 2002 presidential candidate who had been held captive by the FARC since 2002. However, by the time Uribe left office, the FARC was still nowhere close to total defeat: they remained a real and potent threat, with a strong offensive capacity and robust bases in remote regions. However, Uribe’s security policies were also criticized – there were (are) strong concerns regarding human rights violations by the military, tragically exemplified by the ‘false positives’ scandal – a long-standing practice (revealed in 2008) of extrajudicial assassinations of civilians by the army to present them as guerrillas killed in action, to embellish the army’s record. Human rights concerns were often cited by American lawmakers seeking to reduce the hefty multi-million dollar US military aid to Colombia (officially in the name of the war on drugs, and, post-9/11, in the ‘war on terror’ against the guerrillas). Latin American left-wingers, notably Hugo Chávez, strongly criticized Uribe’s strongly pro-American stance and Bogotá’s military alliance with the US – a 2009 Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US led to a diplomatic crisis with Venezuela, which charged that Bogotá was preparing for an invasion of Venezuela with US assistance.

Santos, who had served as Minister of Defense under Uribe’s second term, was seen as somebody who would continue in Uribe’s footsteps. That being said, it’s worth noting that Santos wasn’t Uribe’s first choice in 2010 – his preferred successor (besides himself – an attempt to allow him to run for a third term was struck down by the court) was agriculture minister Andrés Felipe Arias, who was defeated in the Conservative primary. As it turned out, however, Santos has been very much his own man. Santos’ policies and political style has been rather different from Uribe. Santos is more diplomatic, quickly normalizing and improving relations with Venezuela (on the brink of war when Santos took office in August 2010), in contrast to Uribe, more bellicose and confrontational. Some of Santos’ domestic policies went against Uribe’s own policies or aroused Uribe’s opposition – most significantly, a much-debated 2011 ‘victims and land restitution law’ which allows compensation to the victims of the armed conflict (including victims of government forces) and for those whose land was illegally stolen or purchased during the conflict (often by the paramilitaries) to reclaim their land. Finally, Uribe was particularly irked by the promotion of anti-Uribe politicians to cabinet, while the courts were bringing charges against several of Uribe’s close allies.

While he continued the successful military targeting of senior FARC leaders – managing to kill FARC military mastermind ‘Mono Jojoy’ and later FARC leader Alfonso Cano – Santos also signaled early on that he felt that peace was not possible solely through a military strategy – if the FARC were to surrender, they would need concessions and incentives to negotiate. In September 2012, Santos confirmed that the government had been engaged in secret negotiations with the FARC in Cuba and Norway. The talks have not been accompanied by any FARC cease-fire (besides for a two-month ceasefire in late 2012) or the concession of a DMZ to the FARC inside Colombia. The two parties are set to discuss five contentious issues: land reform (agreement reached in May 2013), political participation for the FARC (agreement reached in November 2013), ending the conflict, drugs and drug trafficking (most FARC revenue comes from drug trafficking) and justice for victims (of both parties).

Uribe has been strongly against the negotiations with the FARC, refusing to talk with a group who he considers (along with the US, EU and Canada) to be terrorists. He has become an implacable foe of Santos’ government. There are also concerns about displeasure with the talks in the military forces, following a February 2014 spy scandal in which the military was found to be spying on the government’s negotiating team in Havana and Oslo. Public opinion has generally been supportive, but there is little optimism for the talks’ success – deep pessimism resulting from the total failure of previous attempts at negotiation in the 1980s, mid-1990s and 1998-2002.

Santos is less popular than his predecessor, who left office with very high approval ratings. Santos suffered from major protests from farmers, truckers, miners, students and civil servants in August 2013.

Parties and Candidates

Traditional Colombian parties, except for small parties on the left of the spectrum, have been quite unencumbered by ideology or any political consistency. The politicians who make up these parties are much the same: their political loyalties are often rather variable, their ideology hard to discern and, of course, many are quite corrupt or have very iffy ties to less than charming groups and people. At best, many parties are coalitions of regional caciques; at worst, a few are quasi-criminal organizations with ties to drug trafficking and paramilitary groups.

Especially since the collapse of the two-party system in 2002, many politicians have switched parties several times. Voting patterns, as a result, often owe more to individual politicians or, more so in the past, to the influence of non-state actors (guerrillas, paramilitaries, drug cartels, criminal organizations) in certain areas.

Santos will run for reelection at the helm of the National Unity (Unidad Nacional) coalition, a three-party alliance made up of the Social Party of National Unity (Partido Social de la Unidad Nacional, PSUN; commonly known as the Partido de la U or ‘Party of the U’), the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Colombiano, PLC) and the Radical Change party (Cambio Radical, CR).

The Party of the U was founded in 2005 by Liberal dissidents such as Santos to support Uribe. The party became the most prominent of the uribista parties, but unlike some other ambitious politicians (notably his leftist rivals, Chávez, Correa and Morales), Uribe never really tried to consolidate his broad coalition in a single party. Instead, Uribe was backed by a broad coalition including the Party of the U but also the Conservative Party and, at the outset, CR. Santos was the Party of the U’s candidate in the 2010 presidential election and the party became the largest party in both houses of Congress in March 2010. Under Santos’ presidency, the Party of the U (no cookies for guessing what the U referred to at the outset) shifted from being the leading party in the uribista coalition to being the leading force in a santista coalition. As such, the party has shifted ideologically from a conservative and strongly hawkish position to a more moderate and pragmatic positions. Santos is, if such terms can be used, on the centre-right and declares himself to be an admirer of Tony Blair’s Third Way.

The U’s top candidate for Senate was Jimmy Chamorro, a pastor and former Senator. Chamorro is a recent member of the party, and appears to have little ties to it: he flirted with both uribismo and The U before the election. He was followed on the party’s preferential list by retired General Fredy Padilla de León, the commander of the Colombian Military Forces between 2006 and 2010 and, subsequently, Ambassador to Austria until 2012. Under his military command, the Colombian army struck the hardest blows against the FARC with the assassination of Raúl Reyes and the successful liberation of Ingrid Betancourt. However, suspicions over his role in the false positives scandal have followed him since leaving the command, and it was those accussations, leveled against him by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, that forced him to resign his ambassadorship in Vienna. The third man on the list, Jorge Géchem Turbay, is a senior politician from Huila who spent 6 years in captivity as a FARC hostage.

The Liberal Party is one of Colombia’s two historically dominant parties, alongside the Conservatives. The Liberals, who were founded in the 1840s, originally stood for federalism, anti-clericalism, more democratic government, civil liberties and – in the 1930s – some left-wing Liberals supported social reforms. Until 1957, with some exceptions, the Liberals and Conservatives alternated in power not through elections but rather through bloody civil wars. The last such civil war between the two parties, La Violencia, was so violent and destructive – lasting from 1948 until 1957 and killing 200,000-300,000 – that the Liberals and Conservatives agreed to share power and alternate in the presidency. This arrangement, the National Front, which lasted until 1974 (but power-sharing of government jobs lasted until 1990), signaled the end of sharp distinctions between the two parties who were no longer separated by any one issue (the old question of anti-clericalism no longer being a political issue) and agreeing on most issues of the day. The two parties, nevertheless, remained by far the two most important parties until 2002. After 1974, the Liberals held the presidency more often than the Conservatives. The Liberals were hit particularly hard by the defection of several of their members, first and foremost Uribe himself, to uribismo after 2002. The Liberal leadership joined the ranks of the opposition to Uribe; although they retained a fairly significant (if much reduced) bench in Congress, the Liberals have performed terribly in presidential elections since 2002: 11.8% in 2006 and 4.4% in 2010. Since 2011, the Liberals have joined the government. Rafael Pardo, the Liberals’ 2010 candidate, joined Santos’ cabinet as labour minister in October 2011.

The Liberal top candidate for Senate was Horacio Serpa, a political veteran who served as Minister of the Interior (1994-1997), OAS ambassador (2002-2004), governor of Santander (2008-2011) and three time unsuccessful Liberal presidential candidate (1998, 2002, 2006). Serpa, one of the main caciques of the department of Santander, gained notoriety as interior minister under embattled Liberal President Ernesto Samper (1994-1998), whose entire presidency was marred by serious allegations that his campaign had been funded by the Cali drug cartel. Serpa, a loyal ally of Samper, steadfastly denied all allegations and defended Samper. He ran, unsuccessfully, for President three times – in 1998, he lost in the second round to a Conservative candidate backed by some of Serpa’s Liberal enemies; in 2002, he placed a distant second behind Uribe and in 2006 he placed a paltry third. Most Liberal candidates on the Senate list are acustomed politicians who have run for office in the past.

The Radical Change party is a small party founded in 1998 by Liberal galanista dissidents – supporters of assassinated Liberal political Luis Carlos Galán (killed by Pablo Escobar’s Medellín cartel in 1989), who notably opposed Serpa’s 1998 candidacy. In 2002, Germán Vargas Lleras, the grandson of a former President and Senator (1998-2008), joined the party along with his personalist outfit, ‘Colombia Siempre‘ (Colombia Always). In the Senate, Vargas Lleras was a noted opponent of the government’s peace talks with the FARC in 1998-2002 and, as such, he grew closer to another opponent, Álvaro Uribe. The CR came to become an uribista party, but it was also very much implicated in the parapolitics scandal – 8 of its 33 congressmen in the 2006-2010 term were arrested, investigated or ordered to be arrested by the Supreme Court and the Attorney General. Vargas Lleras opposed Uribe’s reelection for a third term and ran for president in 2010, placing third with 10.1% of the vote. He has since become a senior cabinet minister in Santos’ government, serving as Minister of the Interior (2010-2012) and Minister of Housing (2012-2013); he is currently Santos’ vice-presidential running mate in the May 2014 presidential election. There are rumours that Vargas Lleras might be eyeing the vice presidency as a springboard to run for President, with Santos’ support, in 2018.

CR’s top candidate was Carlos Fernando Galán, the son of Luis Carlos Galán and a former municipal councillor in Bogotá. Arturo Char, former senator and the heir to a powerful political dynasty headed by Senator Fuad Char, was second on the party’s list. Char’s family are an economic and political powerhouse in the Atlántico department in the Caribbean region. Germán Varón, a representative, CR president and Vargas Lleras’ right-hand man, was also on the party’s list.

Álvaro Uribe has created his own party to oppose Santos’ government, the Democratic Centre (Centro Democrático, CD), founded in January 2013. The CD is very much a personalist party built around and entirely dominated by Uribe: it was actually first known as the ‘Uribe Democratic Centre’ and the party’s original logo was Uribe’s face (the current logo is a man’s silhouette, which looks similar to Uribe). The party’s slogan, which is part of its official electoral name, is Uribe’s emblematic 2002 slogan – mano firme, corazón grande (firm hand, big heart). The CD include uribistas from other parties, notably The U and the Conservatives. Prominent members of the CD include Uribe’s Minister of Finance and Public Credit Óscar Iván Zuluaga (the CD’s 2014 presidential candidate), Uribe’s Vice President Francisco Santos Calderón and the former governor of Antioquia Luis Alfredo Ramos. All three men have been linked to the parapolitics scandal: Santos Calderón is under investigation for a meeting with AUC leaders in which he allegedly suggested that the AUC creates a front in Bogotá; in August 2013, Ramos was arrested on orders of the Attorney General for his presumed ties to paramilitaries; Zuluaga was investigated by the Attorney General in 2007 for a 2003 picture of him at an event for a former paramilitary running for mayor.

The party ran a closed list for Senate, with Álvaro Uribe as its top candidate. Most of the party’s other congressional candidates have relatively little political or legislative experience, which makes it likely that the CD’s caucus will vote as a bloc and continue to be Uribe’s electoral vehicle. María del Rosario Guerra de la Espriella, the CD’s second candidate on the list, is an economist who served as Minister of Information Technologies and Communications in Uribe’s second government. Although she has never held elected office, her family is a powerful political clan in the Caribbean department of Sucre – her father served in both houses of Congress and as governor, and her uncle is the incumbent governor. Her brother, Antonio Guerra de la Espriella, ran for Senate on the CR list. Paloma Valencia Laserna, an anti-peace talks journalist, was third on the list. José Obdulio Gaviria, one of the most controversial men in Uribe’s camarilla, is considered to be Uribe’s ideological strategist and mastermind. Pablo Escobar’s first cousin, he is particularly controversial, even toxic to some, because of family members’ ties to drug trafficking and his own controversial statements (denying the existence of an armed conflict and forced displacements).

La Silla Vacía, an excellent resource on Colombian politics, had an interesting feature detailing Uribe’s senatorial list and allowing you to sort candidates by different relevant filters.

The Conservative Party (Partido Conservador Colombiano, PCC) is Colombia’s other historically dominant party, which emerged around the same time as the Liberals (in direct opposition to them) in the 1840s. Back then, the Conservatives stood for a strong central government, strong ties to and privileges for the Catholic Church and support for traditional social hierarchies (landowners, the clergy etc). The Conservatives dominated much of the early twentieth century (until 1930) in Colombia, following the collapse of federalism and the adoption of a highly centralist and strongly conservative constitution in 1886. Like the Liberals, the Conservatives have always been a complex web of competing clans and factions – often led by mutually antagonistic caciques. The Conservatives last held the Colombian presidency between 1998 and 2002, with Andrés Pastrana, most famous for the failed peace negotiations with the FARC which very much weakened the Conservatives in the 2002 elections – so much that they ran no candidates and backed Uribe, while taking a major hit in Congress. Joining the uribista coalition, the Conservatives enjoyed a brief resurgence in congressional elections in 2006 and 2010 – they’re currently the second largest party in the Senate. However, the Conservatives’ presidential candidate in 2010, former ambassador and two-time (1998, 2002) independent presidential candidate Noemi Sanín, won only 6.1% and fifth place. The party has been very much divided over the current government and its strategy for 2014: most of its congressional candidates were santista, but the party has a strong pro-Uribe group and the party’s presidential candidate, Marta Lucía Ramírez, is seen as pro-Uribe. Alejando Ordóñez, the somewhat controversial Inspector General, is a Conservative and close ally of Uribe, known for conservative and Catholic positions on social issues. It is unclear if the Conservatives will back Uribe, Santos or run a candidate of their own in May.

The Conservatives’ senatorial list was largely made up of old caciques and incumbents – the list’s top 12 candidates were all incumbent Senators. Atop the list was Roberto Gerlein, one of the most powerful congressmen in Colombia who has served in the Senate since 1974. Gerlein, because of his stature and his powerful electoral machine in the Atlántico department, has tended to be fairly independent of his party in the past – for example, in the 1990s, he supported Liberal President Ernesto Samper against the will of his party. Nowadays, he is considered pro-Santos. Jorge Hernando Pedraza, a Conservative boss from Boyacá, was second; Efraín Cepeda, another Senator from Atlántico, was third. José Darío Salazar, a pro-Uribe and pro-Ordóñez senator, ranked fourth on the list.

Civic Option (Opción Ciudadana) is the latest incarnation of the National Integration Party (PIN), a ‘party’ founded and led by politicians tied to paramilitaries or relatives of such politicians. In the 2006-2009 congress, 5 of 15 congressmen were arrested or ordered to be arrested in the parapolitics scandal. Located on the right, these politicians have tended to support uribismo, although their unsavouriness has meant that the more ‘respectable’ parties have hesitated to openly associate with them. Because of their ties to political machines, business empires or criminal organizations, the PIN/whatever it’s called has managed strong results in congressional elections – in 2006, it won 7 senators and 8 representatives and in 2010 the PIN won 9 and 11 seats respectively.

Most of the party’s senatorial candidates were incumbent congressmen and all but one of the top 10 candidates are classified by La Silla Vacía as ‘heirs of persons sentenced or on trial’. For example, the party’s second candidate, Doris Vega de Gil, is the wife of former senator and party founder Luis Alberto Gil, who spent six years in prison for the parapolitics scandal. Teresita García Romero, incumbent Senator, is the sister of Álvaro ‘El Gordo’ García (and considered to be his puppet), a Sucre cacique spending 40 years in jail for masterminding the massacre of 15 people in 2000.

The Independent Movement of Absolute Renovation (Movimiento Independiente de Renovación Absoluta, MIRA) is one of the weirdest political parties. The party’s ideology is miraísmo, a ‘transversal’ ideology which claims to focus on the common good, peace and transcending the left and right. MIRA is the political arm of the Church of God Ministry of Jesus Christ International, a neo-Pentecostal Colombian church with a presence in 45 countries. The party’s most famous figure, retiring Senator Alexandra Moreno Piraquive, is the daughter of the church’s founders. She was elected to the Senate in 2002, and reelected in 2006 and 2010. The party’s president is Carlos Baena, a pastor-politician, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 on a closed list led by Alexandra Moreno.

The retirement of the party’s most popular politician, Alexandra Moreno, promised to weaken MIRA this year. Its senatorial list was led by Bogotá representative Gloria Stella Díaz. Senator Manuel Antonio Virgüez, a veteran party leader, was the second candidate; Carlos Baena was third.

On the left of the spectrum, the Democratic Alternative Pole (Polo Democrático Alternativo, PDA), is the largest left-wing party in Colombia. But the country stands out from its neighbors because the left has always been weak: the ties (real or imagined) of many left-wingers to the FARC have brought the leftist brand into disrepute while paramilitaries and drug cartels have often assassinated left-wing politicians – in the 1980s, for example, politicians in the pro-FARC Patriotic Union (UP), was largely purged of its leadership by assassinations and forced to stop participating in elections. The Polo was founded in 2005, by the merger of two parties. Since then, it has been one of the few parties unambiguously in opposition to both Uribe and Santos. Many of its politicians were members or sympathized with armed guerrilla movements in the 1970s and 1980s, especially the demobilized (in 1990) M-19 group.

In 2006, the Polo benefited from a polarization of public opinion and its candidate, Carlos Gaviria (called a communist by Uribe), won 22% and placed a distant second to Uribe. However, it won only a few seats in Congress (10 in the Senate, 8 in the Chamber). In Congress, however, many Polo leaders over time have gained notoriety for leading charges against the government – under Uribe, then-senator Gustavo Petro blew the whistle in the parapolitics case and the Polo opposed the FTA with the US and backed same-sex marriage bills. In 2010, the party was weakened by rising internal dissent between moderates (clearly anti-FARC) and leftists (some with lingering sympathies for the FARC); the Polo lost seats in the congressional elections (8 and 5 seats in the two respective houses) and the party’s candidate, moderate senator Gustavo Petro, won 9%. After the election, a major internal crisis led to moderates around Petro quitting the party, which is now led by Clara López, a former UP member and the party’s 2014 candidate.

The Polo had some strength in Bogotá, where it held the city hall with two successive mayors between 2004 and 2011; but the Polo has been crippled by the corruption scandals (construction kickbacks) which led to the dismissal of mayor Samuel Moreno in 2011. López was a close ally of Moreno when he was mayor, and served as appointed mayor between June and December 2011 following his removal from office by the Inspector General.

The Polo’s 2014 strategy, a desperate attempt to save seats and perform honorably in May, revolves around harnessing the 2013 social protest movements. As a result, many of its senatorial candidates have been recruited from social movements (miners, truckers, healthcare, academia, agriculture) or trade unionism. The Polo’s lead candidate was popular incumbent senator Jorge Enrique Robledo, a former coffee worker union leader from Tolima and Senator since 2002. Robledo has gained notoriety and popularity for being an active, competent legislator and as a vocal congressional opponent to Uribe and Santos (FTA, DCA, agricultural policy). He was investigated by the Attorney General for presumed ties to the FARC, but it is widely believed that the investigation, now dropped, was politically-motivated.

The Green Alliance (Alianza Verde) is the result of the September 2013 alliance of the Green Party with the Progressives Movement (Movimiento Progresistas). Located in the centre of the spectrum, the Greens adopted their name in 2009 (although they were founded in 2005) and did, all things considered, remarkably well in the 2010 presidential election with the candidacy of the eccentric former mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus. Mockus placed a very distant second with 21.5% in the first round, but lost heavily in the second round (27.5%). In Congress, however, the Greens won few seats in 2010 – 5 senators and 3 representatives. The Greens are something of a big-tent party, with little ideological cohesion – some in the movement are fairly pro-government (the Greens were considered part of the governing coalition until recently), others (former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa) are also favourable to Uribe while other (such as Mockus, who left the Greens in 2011) are more left-leaning (and, as such, anti-government and anti-Uribe). In the 2011 Bogotá mayoral election, Green candidate Enrique Peñalosa supported the government and was endorsed by Álvaro Uribe, something which divided the Greens and led Mockus to leave the party.

The Progressives Movement was founded in 2011 by the Polo’s 2010 presidential candidate and former Senator Gustavo Petro, who represented a moderate (social democratic, notably pro-FTA with the US) and more resolutely anti-FARC wing of the fractious left-wing party. Petro left the Polo shortly after the 2010 election, after having lost the leadership of the party to his former running mate, Clara López, and strongly criticizing the corrupt municipal administration of Bogotá mayor Samuel Moreno. Petro was elected mayor of Bogotá in 2011; he has been unpopular with some voters and was criticized for a trash removal crisis in 2012. In early December 2013, the Inspector General’s office removed him from office and banned him from holding public office for a period of 15 years. The decision, which has since been temporarily suspended by a court awaiting judgement from a higher court, reeked of political persecution (as Petro claims): the decision was unexpectedly severe (especially the long ban from holding office; Moreno faced only a year-long ban from office), the Inspector General, Alejandro Ordóñez, is a conservative supporter of Uribe and opponent of the peace talks. Petro will face a recall referendum on April 6.

The alliance between the Greens and the Progressives has already run into problems. The Green Alliance held a primary election to nominate its presidential candidate alongside the congressional elections, and the favourite in the race was Enrique Peñalosa, a former Liberal who served as mayor of Bogotá from 1998 to 2000 and ran for mayor in 2007 and 2011 (both times with Uribe’s backing). The Progressives consider Peñalosa to be an uribista. His two other primary opponents were John Sudarsky, a ‘Mockusian’ Green senator; and Camilo Romero, a Progressive senator.

The Green Alliance’s senatorial list was topped by Antonio Navarro Wolff, one of the Colombian left’s most well-known figures. Navarro Wolff was a member of the M-19 guerrilla group between 1974 and its demobilization in 1990, rising through the ranks as a military commander but also a leading peace negotiator in the 1989-1990 talks with the government which led to M-19’s demobilization and its transformation into a major political party, AD M-19. Navarro Wolff replaced the AD M-19’s assassinated 1990 presidential candidate, winning 12.7%. Since then, Navarro Wolff has served in both houses of Congress, Minister of Health, mayor of Pasto and governor of Nariño. As governor, he governed pragmatically, combining participative decision-making with economic alliances with the private sector; also supporting Uribe’s democratic security and coca eradication policies, although combined with direct economic aid to peasants to develop an alternative economy to coca. Incumbent senator Jorge Londoño, a former Liberal governor of Boyacá (2004-2007), was second on the list. The Green Alliance’s senatorial list was largely made up of left-leaning candidates, with a mix of politicians and outsiders from social movements or NGOs.


Turnout was 43.58% (43.57% for the Chamber), down from 44.2% in the 2010 congressional elections and 45.7% in 2006. Turnout in Colombia has generally been very low – in fact, 43% is by no means a record low or even particularly unusual – turnout was about 33% in 1994. Turnout in presidential elections has been no higher: it has not been over 50% since 1998, and prior to that it had been quite low since the 1960s. The armed conflict, in which the Colombian government often lacked total sovereignty over its own territory and which saw armed groups bar voters from voting, has played a major role in Colombia’s very low turnout. Areas controlled by the FARC have historically had very low turnout, although on the other hand, in some regions controlled by paramilitaries, turnout was often quite high as a result of some paramilitaries supporting candidates and marshaling voters to the polls. In addition, since the 1960s-1970s, discontent with the political system – seen as corrupt and with few differences between the parties – has likely played a major role in reducing turnout further. All in all, Colombia’s history has meant that there is no strong civic culture promoting electoral participation.

It is also worth noting that there is a huge number of invalid votes. This year, out of 14.3 million votes cast (for Senate), only 11.1 million were for parties. 5.88% of ballots were returned unmarked, 10.38% were invalid and 6.17% were white/blank votes (voto en blanco). Recall that, in Colombia, each ballot paper provides an option for the voter to cast a blank vote which is recognized as a ‘valid vote’ (similar, for example, to the valid ‘NOTA’ option in Nevada).

Results below are unofficial preliminary results (preconteo), with about 98% reporting. The Colombian Registraduría Nacional del Estado Civil, which administers elections, calculates each party’s percentage on the total of votes cast.


Party of the U 15.58% (-11.87%) winning 21 seats (-7)
CD 14.29% (+14.29%) winning 19 seats (+19)
Conservative 13.58% (-7.99%) winning 19 seats (-3)
Liberal 12.22% (-4.45%) winning 17 seats (nc)
Radical Change 6.96% (-0.88%) winning 9 seats (+1)
Green Alliance 3.94% (-0.96%) winning 5 seats (nc)
Polo 3.78% (-4.06%) winning 5 seats (-3)
Civic Option 3.68% (-5.14%) winning 5 seats (-4)
MIRA 2.28% (-0.66%) winning 0 seats (-3)
Indigenous parties 2.16% winning 2 seats (nc) – 1 ASI, 1 MAIS
Blank vote 6.17%

Chamber of Representatives

Party of the U 16.05% (-13.04%) winning 37 seats (-10)
Liberal 14.13% (-8.9%) winning 39 seats (+2)
Conservative 13.17% (-8.65%) winning 27 seats (-11)
CD 9.47% (+9.47%) winning 18 seats (+18)
Radical Change 7.74% (-1.96%) winning 16 seats (+1)
Green Alliance 3.35% (+1.53%) winning 6 seats (+3)
Civic Option 3.26% (-3.41%) winning 6 seats (-6)
Polo 2.89% (-0.14%) winning 3 seats (-2)
MIRA 2.87% (+2.27%) winning 3 seats (nc)
100% Colombia 1.1% (+1.1%) winning 3 seats (+3)
UP 0.69% (+0.69%) winning 0 seats (nc)
Por un Huila Mejor 0.51% (+0.51%) winning 1 seat (+1)
AICO 0.46% (+0.46%) winning 1 seat (+1)
ASI 0.32% (+0.32%) winning 1 seat (nc)
Others 0.03% winning 1 seat (nc)
Afro-Colombian parties 1.11% winning 2 seats (nc) – 2 Fundación Ébano
Indigenous parties 0.55% winning 1 seats (nc) – 1 AICO
Blank vote 6.56%

Andean Parliament

The Andean Parliament is a deliberative body with five members from each of the four member states of the Andean Community of Nations (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia). With no law-making powers, almost all political leaders in the four countries agree that the body is outdated, pointless, a waste of time and a waste of money. President Santos wants to abolish the body and cast a blank vote himself. Most parties did not run lists. Turnout was only 30.97% – and that’s not all – 28% of ballots were unmarked, 5.01% were invalid and 35.61% were blank. In all, only 31.35% of the ballots were cast for parties (3.189 million votes only). Because more of the valid votes were ‘blank’ (NOTA) rather than for parties, it is likely that the election will be cancelled and repeated (wasting more money).

Blank vote 35.61%
Conservative 9.31% winning 2 seats
Green Alliance 8.01% winning 2 seats
Polo 7.09% winning 1 seat
Civic Option 3.04% winning 0 seats
UP 2.52% winning 0 seats
100% Colombia winning 0 seats

The results are a relative victory for both Santos and Uribe, a mix of both good and bad results. The three parties of the National Unity coalition lost their majority in the Senate (47/102 seats) but held it in the Chamber (92/167); with the support of many Conservative congressmen, given that, according La Silla Vacía, all Conservative senators are considered santistas; the government does retain a comfortable majority in both houses and its law-making powers should not be impeded too much. However, Santos will no longer have the comfort of dispensing with the Conservatives; the Conservatives could theoretically form a coalition with the uribistas and the Civic Option. He will therefore need to deal with some blackmail and bargaining with the Conservatives, lest he turns left to the small Green caucus. On matters such as the peace talks, Santos will probably need to work with his left, despite bad relations between Vargas Lleras and the Polo/Progressives.

The Party of the U, the leading oficialista party, remained the largest party in the Senate (by a hair) and nearly did so in the Chamber. It remains the largest force in the National Unity coalition. Despite substantial loses to the uribistas and apathy, the party – contrary to most predictions – remained on the top, ahead of the CD. It did so thanks to the continued electoral power of the U’s regional caciques – mostly incumbents with machines, pork and money (sounds even better in Spanish: con plata, mermelada y maquinaria). A geographical analysis and a look at the preferential votes, later in this article, confirms this.

The major winner in the governing coalition was Vargas Lleras’ Radical Change, the only coalition party to increase its seat count. Thanks to strong candidates and Vargas Lleras’ place on Santos’ reelection ticket, the CR was the other major winner in the election besides the CD. The party’s strong results reinforces Vargas Lleras’ position both in the short-term and in the long-term (president in 2018); it is also significant that he will be backed by loyal senators – Galán and Varón.

The Liberals appear pleased with their result, but they failed in their attempt to become the largest political party in Colombia; the Liberal Party’s result and the U’s relative success means that the Liberals don’t have enough power to argue for a renegotiation of the coalition dynamics or to make their weight felt (especially as it concerns Santos’ succession in 2018). The Liberal leadership placed high hopes in Horacio Serpa, their veteran political topping the party’s open list for the Senate. However, as explained below, Serpa’s performance – both nationally and his home turf of Santander – was quite underwhelming and failed in its mission to help the Liberals.

Uribe can be considered as the other main winner of the night, although Uribe’s closed list narrowly missed out on first place in the Senate (it had led the vote count for most of the night). Uribe brings with him 18 other senators to the Senate, forming the largest opposition bloc in the Senate. Also significant is that, as touched on in the intro, the new CD caucus consists of persons with little/no prior political or legislative experience and closely connected to Uribe. According to La Silla Vacía, Uribe is the only CD senator who has served in Congress before – compared with all but two of the U’s senators, all but 3 Liberals and 3 Conservatives. However, not all CD senators are foreign to politics: 7 (besides Uribe) have held public office, and 7 have other family members involved in politics. For example, journalist Paloma Valencia is from a powerful political family although she has no prior political experience. Alfredo Ramos is the son of the former governor of Antioquia investigated for parapolitics, but he too has no prior political experience. These people, along with Paola Holguín (an adviser to Uribe during his presidency) or María del Rosario Guerra de la Espriella, can be counted upon to be loyal uribistas. This means that the CD caucus will likely vote as a bloc, being a constant thorn in the side to the government and inconveniencing Santos.

The CD will not, on its own, have the weight to prove more than an inconvenience and hassle to the government, unless they are able to reach an agreement with the Conservatives (hard given the attractiveness of government patronage to them) and the Civic Option (most of its senators are considered uribistas, and the government likely has more resources to bribe them). Nevertheless, Uribe will have a platform from which to lead the opposition to the government.

The other matter is whether Uribe’s 2 million votes for the Senate can be considered an accurate reflection of uribismo‘s true weight. While Uribe has very high approval ratings, only about a third of those who approve of him (60%) actually voted for him. Furthermore, there was a marked difference between the CD’s results in the Uribe-led Senate race and the Chamber race, where Uribe was not a candidate and where the CD cared less. The CD only won 9.5% or 1.35 million votes in the Chamber of Representatives. That being, Uribe’s result is still a net success, given that he controlled little existing political machines in the departments and went up against powerful government caciques backed by patronage and pork.

The result of the left was quite terrible. The Polo was one of the main losers of the election. Although the Polo’s lead candidate, popular senator Jorge Robledo won the most personal preferential votes in Colombia – 191,910 votes or 1.3% of the total votes cast, the party still lost many votes and five congressmen. Although the Green Alliance retained its seats and strength, the Progressives around embattled Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro did poorly in Bogotá, where right-wing parties supporting the mayor’s recall outpolled his supporters by a mile. Within the Green Alliance, Antonio Navarro Wolff was not the most popular individual candidate, winning only 55.4 thousand votes against 81 thousand votes for Claudia López, a political analyst who has worked on election observation and investigating corruption and parapolitics.

Nevertheless, the major silver lining for the Greens was the huge success of their presidential primary. With 92% reporting, the Green primary drew 4.1 million votes (or 2.9 million valid votes), against only 564,663 votes for the Greens in the senatorial election. Enrique Peñalosa handily won the Green primary, with 47.4% against 16.5% for Romero (Progressives) and 8.4% for Sudarsky (Mockusian Green). It is a remarkable victory for Peñalosa, who was not really wanted by most of his own party and had to face relatively low media attention and much antagonism within the Green Alliance.

Therefore, looking the presidential race, the one coming out with momentum is Peñalosa rather than Uribe’s candidate Zuluaga. Peñalosa himself won 1.96 million (with more votes to come), coming close (perhaps beating, when all is done) with Uribe’s vote in the Senate, and easily surpassing the core Uribe vote for the Chamber. It’s clear that not everybody who voted in the primary is a supporter of the Green Alliance, and it is not clear if everybody who backed Peñalosa in the primary will vote for him in the actual election. John Sudarsky, who will not support Peñalosa, claims that Peñalosa’s victory is not legitimate because he won with Uribe’s votes; although a cursory analysis shows no correlation between Peñalosa and Uribe’s support.

Regardless, Peñalosa’s big win places him as the favourite to become the main anti-Santos candidate. Zuluaga’s candidacy is weak and petering out; if he wins only the 1.3 million voters who backed the CD in the Chamber election, he will barely win 10% of the vote. Some on the left, particularly the left-wing of the Greens, think that Uribe is looking to dump Zuluaga and fear that Uribe will ally with Peñalosa. Even in the absence of such an unlikely alliance (Peñalosa supports the peace talks with the FARC), Peñalosa could attract some of Uribe’s voters, if he consolidates himself as the main opponent to Santos in the polls.

MIRA fell below the 3% threshold for seats in the Senate, thereby losing all their seats in the upper house, but paradoxically, MIRA won its best result in the lower house, winning 2.9% of the vote and taking 3 seats. Given the loss of the party’s most popular and emblematic legislator, MIRA’s results were still pretty decent.

Geographical analysis

Senate results by department (leading party; source:

It is clear that what mattered for the U was the support of regional machines and their caciques, controlling patronage and pork. It becomes quite clear once you look at the distribution of preference votes on the U’s senatorial slate: the ‘media’ star candidates, led by General Fredy Padilla de León, did poorly – the retired military commander won only 16.3 thousand votes (0.1%), failing to be elected to the Senate because he placed so low on the vote count of all candidates. Of the U’s star candidates, the only one who enjoyed more success was Jimmy Chamorro, who counted on the backing of a Christian machine. Instead, the U candidates who did well are the caciques, who brought with them their departments and allowed the U to narrowly win nationally. The U candidates who won the most votes nationally were Musa Besaile (145.4k votes), Bernardo ‘Noño’ Elías (140.1k votes) – two political bosses from the Caribbean department of Córdoba; José David Name (103.2k votes), the head of a powerful political family in Atlántico; Roosevelt Rodríguez (100.2k votes), a representative from the Valle del Cauca linked to Dilian Francisca Toro, a U Senator investigated by the Supreme Court for money laundering for the Cali cartel; and José Alfredo Gnecco (97.7k votes), the corrupt cousin of the corrupt governor of César and allegedly supported by the former governor of La Guajira, Francisco ‘Kiko’ Gómez, arrested in 2013 for murder.

With machine support, the U swept the Caribbean departments. In César, the U won 29% of the vote – and Gnecco won 20% of the total votes just for himself; in neighboring La Guajira, the U won 27%, with 7.6% for ‘Noño’ Elías and 6.6% for Gnecco. In Córdoba, with three incumbent U caciques, the U won 41%, most of that coming in the form of preferential votes for the department’s three U caciques: ‘Noño’ Elías (12.7%), Musa Besaile (12.4%) and Martín Morales (9.7%). In Bolívar, the U obtained 21.2% thanks to Sandra Villadiego, a representative and wife of Miguel Ángel Rangel (former congressman, sentenced for parapolitics) and Andrés García Zuccardi, a political novice who is the heir to the García-Zuccardi clan (both of his parents are in jail or have been detained for corruption or parapolitics). In Magdalena, the U won 25.8% of the vote, with 6.4% of the vote for Miguel Amin Escaf, a representative from neighboring Atlántico.

In the Caribbean department of Atlántico, the victory went to the Conservatives, led by the septuagenarian Conservative cacique, Senator Roberto Gerlein. The party won 28.9% of the votes, with 10% of the total votes for Gerlein and 8.1% for representative Laureano Acuña, a rival of Gerlein who has built his own smaller machine with his wife and other politicians. The U won 22% in Atlántico, pushed by José David Name (6%). The CR placed third with 14%, with 8.3% for Arturo Char, the heir to Senator Fuad Char’s powerful local dynasty.

The only Caribbean department to escape the National Unity parties was Sucre, where the Civic Option won 23.9% against 20.5% for the U, 12.7% for the Conservatives and 10.9% for the Liberals. The Civic Option’s victory is the result of its two local machines: Julio Miguel Guerra Sotto, the son of the Liberal governor Julio César Guerra (Guerra Sotto was denied the Liberal nomination because of a corrupt business deal with a corrupt local businesswoman [Enilse López, “La Gata”] in his father’s administration), who won 9.6% of the preferential votes thanks to his father’s machine; incumbent Teresita García Romero, introduced above, the sister of a jailed Sucre cacique involved in a paramilitary massacre in 2000, won 6.3%. Incumbent Senator Antonio José Correa (who admitted that his 2010 campaign was funded by a convicted murderer), the candidate of Enilse López’s clan, won 5.5%. In Sucre, the U trailed closely, with support coming from neighboring regional caciques Musa Besaile and ‘Noño’ Elías.

The CD was very weak in the Caribbean region, except for César, where it placed second with 11.4%; it won single digits in all other departments.

In the Andean region, home to large cities (Medellín and Bogotá) and territories less ‘tied down’ by powerful machines and caciques, Uribe (and the left) was more successful. The CD won the senatorial vote in Antioquia, Bogotá DC, Risaralda, Quindio, Tolima, Huila and Cundinamarca; the Andean region provided the CD with 60% of its national vote, and all but one or two of the CD’s representatives are from Andean departments. The Liberals won Santander while the Conservatives won Boyacá and Norte de Santander.

Uribe is from Antioquia and many of his candidates, both for Senate and the Chamber, came from Antioquia: seven senators and five of the CD representatives are antioqueño. In Antioquia, which includes Medellín, the CD won 25.8%, a ten point advantage over the Conservatives; a lot of the CD’s victory comes from Medellín, where Uribe’s party won 34.9%. The Conservatives were led by Nidia Marcela Osorio, candidate of a political machine in the Medellín suburb of Itagüí; and Senator Olga Lucía Suárez, former mayor of the northern Medellín suburb of Bello and inheritor of her husband’s Senate seat (when he was convicted for parapolitics).

In Bogotá, the CD won 20.3%, a margin of about nine points over the Liberals, in second with 11.1%. The Polo and the Greens each won only 7.9%, bad news for Gustavo Petro. Bogotá, along with Antioquia (for the Polo) and Boyacá (for the Greens), remains these two centre-left parties’ main strongholds in Colombia. Although CR won only 7.3% in Bogotá, its star candidate Carlos Fernando Galán got a comparatively hefty personal vote (2.68%), the second most voted single candidate in the city behind the Polo’s Jorge Robledo (2.7%).

The U won Caldas, thanks to Óscar Mauricio Lizcano, the heir of Conservative cacique Óscar Tulio Lizcano. The Conservatives won Boyacá, with two incumbents leading the pack (Jorge Hernando Pedraza, Juan de Jesús Córdoba – only the former was reelected). The main surprise in Boyacá was the Greens’ poor performance; the party won only 7.4% and the incumbent senator/former governor Jorge Londoño only won 4.2%, losing reelection. Although the CD fell short in both departments, they placed strong seconds.

In Norte de Santander, more closely controlled by caciques, the CD placed fourth behind the Conservatives, Liberals and the U. All the three parties were led by local senators-caciques: Conservative three-term senator Juan Manuel Corzo (6.7%), Liberal newcomer Andrés Cristo, the brother of the retiring President of the Senate Juan Fernando Cristo (12.4%) and the U two-term Senator Manuel Guillermo Mora (6.6%). The Polo won a number of small municipalities, certainly due to local campesino leader Jesús Alberto Castilla, who was elected to the Senate.

In Santander, Liberal boss Horacio Serpa, a long-time fixture of national and local politics, allowed his party to top the poll with 20.5% of the vote. But, overall, the results in Santander a considered a defeat for Serpa. The Liberals had placed high hopes in Serpa’s ability to attract significant votes both nationally and in Santander, but he failed to do so. In terms of preferential votes in Santander, Serpa won 40.4k (5.5%), far less than the candidate of Serpa’s sworn enemies – Senator Nerthink Mauricio Aguilar, from Civic Option, won 82.5k (11.3%). Aguilar, first elected to the Senate in 2010 with 51k votes, is the son of former governor Hugo Aguilar (2004-2007), Serpa’s main rival who was arrested for parapolitics in 2011 (given that Nerthink Mauricio Aguilar lacked any political experience in 2010, he was only elected thanks to his father’s machinery) and his brother, Richard Aguilar, is the incumbent governor of Santander (elected in 2011, defeating the candidate backed by outgoing governor Serpa). It is true that Serpa had to deal with serious Liberal challenges: Senate Jaime Enrique Durán won 5.3% of the vote, just a bit less than Serpa. Yet, it’s a major defeat both for Serpa and the Liberals. In the Chamber election, Civic Option won Santander and two seats.

National Unity held the upper hand in the four Pacific departments, notably the most important of them – Valle del Cauca (Cali), won by the U. In that department, the U’s Roosevelt Rodríguez, an incumbent representative who was the candidate of embattled Senator Dilian Francisca Toro, under investigation for money laundering of drug trafficking proceeds for the Cali cartel. Toro was behind Rodríguez’ campaign operation and had her machine behind him; with a great result: he won 77.2k votes in the department (that’s over three-quarters of all the votes he won nationally), or 6.3%. Overall, the U won 14.9% in the department, followed by the Conservatives (12.5%), the Liberals (12.1%) and Uribe (10.5%). The Conservatives elected Javier Mauricio Delgado (5.5%), the political heir of his uncle Senator César Tulio Delgado and the candidate backed by governor Ubeimar Delgado (his other uncle); the Liberals reelected Édinson Delgado (2.9%). The other interesting aspect of the race in the Valle is the end of the Civic Option, which used to be a powerful party in the department when it was backed by the Abadía clan (Juan Carlos Abadía, now-deposed governor of the Valle from 2008 to 2010) and Senator Juan Carlos Martínez (senator from 2002 to 2009, convicted in the parapolitics scandal and under investigation for drug trafficking); with its main backers politically dead, it won only 5.3% and its incumbent senator, Carlos Arturo Quintero (controversial because of a link to a drug cartel assassin) was soundly defeated.

In Cauca, the Liberals won handily with 22.3% of the vote; two-term senator Luis Fernando Velasco, who comes from a family of politicians, won 7.8%. In Nariño, the Conservatives, with two influential senators, topped the poll with 25.2% – senators Myriam Alicia Paredes (9.7%) and Carlos Eduardo Enríquez (8.7%) are both close allies of the government, especially Enríquez. The Liberals (21.3%) won a strong second, thanks to incumbent senator Guillermo García Realpe (8.9%, but lost reelection) and representative Javier Tato Álvarez (7.4%, elected). Puzzling was the Greens’ weak result (6.7%), particularly Antonio Navarro Wolff’s very poor performance (2.6%, only the second most popular Green candidate), given that he has served both as mayor and governor.

The sparsely populated departments of the Amazon, the llanos and the Orinoquía split between the government and the CD – with governing parties winning Putumayo, Meta, Guaviare and Vaupés and the CD winning Arauca, Casanare, Vichada, Guianía, Caquetá and Amazonas. In Meta, the U won a resounding victory (34.4%), with 16.4% for Senator Maritza Martínez, the political boss of the Orinoquía (the only senator representing the region’s four departments); but the U nevertheless lost the other three departments there (Arauca, Casanare, Vichada), though her appeal likely extended into the Amazon (Guaviare and Vaupés). Martínez is the heiress of her husband, sentenced for parapolitics. In Casanare, the CD (26.4%) was followed by the Greens (23.6%), led by former governor Jorge Prieto Riveros, who won 19.2% on his name. In thinly populated Caquetá, the governing parties were badly trounced – the top winners were the CD (22%), MIRA (10.5%), the Polo (10%, including 7.5% around local candidate Alonso Orozco Gómez) and the Conservatives (9.5%). In Amazonas, the Greens were second behind the CD (16.8% vs 14.9%), seemingly because the governor is Green and his wife was a Green candidate (10.9% on her name). The Liberals swept Putumayo (28.9%), with 18.4% preferential votes for the department’s representative, Guillermo Rivera.

Chamber results by department (leading party; source:

A detailed analysis of the Chamber results is less important; the games are still defined by regional caciques, who tend to run their tools and pawns as candidate for the Chamber. The CD did, as noted above, far more poorly in the race for the Chamber – the only departments the CD won are Antioquia and Bogotá DC, the two most populous departments which can be expected to be the least ‘tied down’ by caciques. Additionally, several regional parties which did not run for Senate did well in the Chamber race. Worth mentioning is the ‘100% Colombia’ movement, which won 3 seats – 2 from Sucre and one from Casanare. The party won 31% of the vote in Sucre, against 25.6% for the U and 13.3% for Civic Option (which won the senate race in the department). The party is the outfit of Yahir Acuña, an Afro-Colombian representative  under investigation for parapolitics who has alliances with senators (notably Julio Miguel Guerra Sotto) and has gubernatorial ambitions. His Afro-Colombian party, Fundación Ébano, won the two seats reserved for Afro-Colombians in the Chamber. In Casanare, the party’s rep-elect, José Rodolfo Pérez, the candidate of a clan led by his father, a former two-time governor (sentenced to 15 years in jail for parapolitics) and backed by two other governors (one who was deposed for being a crook, and the incumbent).

What comes out of all this is the weight of governors in ‘deciding’ elections. Some notable cases were mentioned above: Nerthink Mauricio Aguilar, the brother of the governor of Santander, elected in a landslide; José Alfredo Gnecco, the cousin of the governor of César; Javier Mauricio Delgado, the nephew of the governor of the Valle whose only previous political experience was being a local councillor in Cali; and Julio Miguel Guerra Sotto, soundly defeated in 2010 but easily elected in 2014 because his father became governor of Sucre in 2011. Another remarkable example is that of Sara Piedrahíta Lyons (The U), a 25-year old beauty queen with zero political experience whose cousin just appears to be the governor of Córdoba. With her cousin’s support, she won 105k votes in Córdoba, or 15.8% of the votes cast in the department. The opposite is true: when nobody in your clan happens to be governor, you lose reelection. In 2010, the Liberal Party’s Arleth Casado was elected senator with the backing of her husband, sentenced for parapolitics. This year, with only 48k votes in Córdoba, she lost reelection – her clan’s candidate lost the governorship in 2011. In Tolima, Conservative Senator Juan Mario Laserna, elected in 2010 with the muscle of then-governor Óscar Barreto, was badly defeated (15k votes in Tolima, only 3.4%) – it so happens that the Barreto clan lost the governorship in 2011 to Liberals and rival Conservatives. In Santander, Liberal Senator Honorio Galvis also lost reelection, having been unable to play his cards correctly with the candidacy of Horacio Serpa – who, as governor, had supported him in 2010. Finally, in Boyacá, Green Senator Jorge Londoño was defeated, his candidate having lost the governorship in 2011.

It is interesting, finally, to look at the national distribution of votes between individual senatorial candidates. For the Conservatives, naturally, the top vote winner nationally was Roberto Gerlein (with 127k votes on his name), followed by his Atlántico colleague Efraín Cepeda (98k), Córdoba Senator Nora María García (86k), Gerlein’s Atlántico rival Laureano Acuña (85.6k) and Yamina Pestana (85k), a political novice controlled by her imprisoned brother (a political boss from Córdoba and Sucre). For the Liberals, Serpa obviously topped the vote count, with 129,974 votes on his name – mostly from Santander but also from other departments – but that was far less than hoped for by the Liberals. Andrés Cristo, the heir to the political boss of Norte de Santander, ranked second nationally with some 85.4k votes; Juan Manuel Galán, a senator from Bogotá, won 75.3k votes.

For the CR, it was Arturo Char, the heir of a clan in Atlántico, who topped the poll with 108,454 preference votes. Carlos Fernando Galán, the CR’s star candidate, won 87.4k votes while Germán Varón, the ally of CR leader/VP candidate Germán Vargas Lleras, won 79.7k votes.

As noted previously, the Green top candidate, Antonio Navarro Wolff, only ranked second (55.4k votes), far behind Claudia López (81k). The Polo’s Jorge Robledo was the top candidate in Colombia, with 191.9k votes – or 1.3% of the total votes cast nationally. Iván Cepeda, an incumbent representative from Bogotá working on human rights and crimes against humanity, won 84,126 votes.

For Civic Option, Nerthink Mauricio Aguilar won 100,159 votes (0.7%). Senator Antonio José Correa, from Bolívar, took 81.9k votes. The Civic Option’s five senators are all classified as ‘cuestionado’ by La Silla Vacía, meaning that they have been cited in alleged (or proven) corruption cases.

The elections left many questions unanswered. Uribe did well, but not well enough to jeopardize Santos’ chances at reelection. Indeed, as noted above, if anyone comes out strengthened from the elections, it is the Green Alliance’s Enrique Peñalosa, not Uribe’s candidate, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who is struggling to take off in polls. For the time being, although Santos’ approvals and polling numbers are not particularly impressive and the likelihood of a strong voto en blanco on May 25 means that he won’t win by the first round; Santos nevertheless remains the runaway favourite to win reelection. His opposition is divided and no opposition candidate has so far managed to emerge as a credible opponent with the ability to unite the very heterogeneous opposition to Santos on his name.

Posted on March 15, 2014, in Colombia. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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