Elections towards Legality or Security? May 2010

Joni AlWindi, Cali, Colombia
Multilingual, social and business entrepreneur from Sweden with experience in Colombia since 2003. Living and working in Cali, Joni is dedicated to global development through quality education and international business for all.

Elections towards Legality or Security?  May 2010

In times of a historical presidency coming to its end with presidential elections around the corner, the big question that divides the majority of the Colombian people could be summarized in the following question: Is it time for democratic legality or for democratic security and prosperity?

Since late February, when the Colombian Supreme Court finally decided that the century’s most popular and successful president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, cannot be re-elected a third time, the presidential campaigns have developed into quite an intriguing spectacle.

Uribe’s re-election in 2006 was historical. First of all, his was the first presidential re-election in Colombian history, having involved a change in the constitution to allow for a second term as president. Secondly, it was the first four-year-period since the largest guerrilla group’s formation in 1964 that wasn’t followed by a change of politics that so many times before had allowed for new wind under the guerrilla’s armed wings. The re-election had been possible because of the incredibly high popularity that the president had gained, primarily by virtue of his tough politics against the guerrilla terrorism.

Strictly economically speaking, it’s unquestionable that Colombia has enjoyed its best development and growth in many years under the ruling president. An increased emphasis on domestic security, pro-market economic policies, export growth and more openness to foreign investment were key factors behind the stable average growth rate of over 5% between 2002 and 2007. Since 2008, Colombia has also been one of the top 10 reforming economies in the world, with reforms that among other things have strengthened property rights and made it easier to start and operate a company. Thanks to this, Colombia is now the most business friendly country in Latin America with the Colombian peso recovering at one of the fastest rates worldwide from the global financial crisis (World Bank’s Doing Business reports and Bloomberg).

Thanks to this stable growth since 2002, Colombia’s root problem, poverty, is said to have reduced by 20% and the unemployment rate by 25% (2010 CIA World Fact Book). The country, however, suffers from a stark polarisation between the people who are in favour of and against the ruling president. The major disagreement would lie in the people’s perception of and benefit from the domestic security versus the continued high poverty and unemployment rates. On the one hand, Colombians enjoy an increasingly high sense of security at moving around both within the cities and between cities, without fearing guerrilla attacks. On the other hand, the number of displaced inhabitants who have lost their homes due to the war against the guerrilla is still around 4 million, and in total 46% of Colombia’s 44 million people still live in poverty, with nowhere to turn but to the armed guerrilla for help.

Nevertheless, a popularity level of more than 60% is unique for a president on the verge of leaving office in Colombia, and the issue is now how to go about after him in the years to come, with what priorities and with whom as a leader.

The last months have seen a dramatic and intriguing development of the campaigns and quite some changes in the candidates’ outlooks to win. Before the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate Uribe from the candidate list, no one was a particularly interesting candidate. Even the most popular potential successor, former Minister of Defence, Juan Manuel Santos, claimed that he wouldn’t run for president if Uribe was allowed another re-election. But then, the race started for real. Suddenly, as many as 10 candidates from different parties or movements were campaigning fully, from the extreme left, represented by the supposedly Chavez-friendly Gustavo Petro, to two university professors with previous terms as mayors for the capital cities Bogota and Medellin respectively, to such an unknown candidate that his most publicly known about achievement is his current hunger strike chained to a statue of Colombia’s liberator, Simon Bolivar, protesting against the lack of media attention. Another candidate is the former ambassador of Colombia in both the UK and Spain, Noemi Sanin, who quickly became the second favourite as the strongest of two female candidates, promoting beautiful human values and continued work with strong hand against terrorism. She managed to win the internal pre-elections within the conservative party but let an incoherent enthusiasm take over and so started to lose votes.

Things started to become really interesting when the two university professors joined forces representing the Green Party, and all of a sudden initiated a green wave that during the last month and a half has resulted in the seventh largest politician page on Facebook. With more than 650 000 fans in little over two months, “Colombia’s Obama”, Antanas Mockus, has attracted an unprecedented number of young and first time voters to join a Colombian election campaign. In some of the latest polls, he was shockingly enough already ahead of the thus far leading Juan Manuel Santos. His proposal, Democratic Legality, is necessary to prioritise, he says, through all levels of the society for a more civilised nation before any Democratic Prosperity, part of Santos’ proposal, can be achieved without being labelled “corruption”.

Concerning the highly important aspect of continued and improved Democratic Security, both leading candidates promise to continue the struggle intensely, although Santos’ credibility to achieve this is much higher. During his time as defence minister under Uribe, he managed to execute noteworthy operations against the guerrilla terrorism, including the rescue operation of the former presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt, and, an unauthorized bombing of a guerrilla camp on Ecuadorian grounds killing a key terrorist leader. Instead of being seen as a great regional anti-terrorism triumph, the latter event turned into a regional crisis that shook profoundly Colombia’s relations with its Latin American “brothers”. In-numerous other political disagreements between the current government, which Santos still represents, and Venezuela’s Chavez have made the countries’ business relations suffer immensely. On several occasions has Chavez frozen the bilateral relationships completely, this time until a new president (supposedly other than Santos) has been elected.

Antanas Mockus’ educational proposal is to a large extent believed to come too soon for Colombia, a country in a never-ending status of internal war. Although this war is quite invisible to the urban middle-class, the fear of the guerrilla is still present, no matter how far it has been pushed back in recent years. Many are those who remember the time just before Uribe’s first presidency, when the streets of Colombia in basically all cities were unsafe to walk, when the shopping malls were main targets of bomb attacks and when any multinational company’s workers ran the risk of having their children kidnapped.

Elections on May 30. More than 50% of the total votes is necessary to win directly, and avoid a second round final on June 20. At this moment, if the opinion polls are to be believed, it looks like both leading candidates are equally likely to remain standing as the new President of Colombia. The question of what might be most appropriate for Colombia at this moment in time is not an easy one: democratic legality or democratic security and prosperity? Well, that’s up to the Colombians to decide. I will just sit back and observe the spectacle and write how it ends afterwards.

With greetings from Colombia,

Joni AlWindi


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