POLITICS | 6/4/2010 12:00:00 AM
The Green Party counts on the big surprises of this presidential campaign for the run-off. But after the first round result the race looks uphill.
And Santos almost wins. The result was 46 percent Santos, 21 percent Mockus. In a country where everyone expected a draw, the margin of the victory make the results looked more like a final victory than a triumph in the first round. But what lies behind this surprising result?
First, it is the first time in Colombia's political history that a presidential candidate with a huge machinery faces another that doesn’t have one. Santos and Mockus proved to be great candidates, with talent, skills and speech. But only one might win.
While almost all the political movements backed Santos, Mockus had barely the support of five senators from the Green Party. And the Sunday’s result showed that the machinery is still important in presidential elections.
Second, because Santos was in tune with the national reality and scored some points for defending the legacy of president Álvaro Uribe. Although the Farc wasn’t a campaign issue, the tranquility that has produced the democratic security -or the fear of losing it- was his best strategy. This also explains why the poorest regions of the country voted for him. The best picture of this electoral phenomenon occurred in Bogotá, where Santos obtained an advantage of 15 points over Mockus, who was supposed to win there.
Third, because Santos had the power on his favor. Uribe’s government, the majority in Congress, much of the entrepreneurs, the labor unions and, above all, the money. History has shown that funding is crucial in campaigns and the support that Santos had doesn’t have precedents.
A fourth reason is that Santos was a good candidate. He has a profile of statesman rather than a emotional connection with the people. Gustavo Petro (Polo Party), Germán Vargas Lleras (Cambio Radical) and Rafael Pardo (Liberal Party) were good candidates and they showed it during the TV debates. But Santos resisted every kind of attacks and showed security.
Finally, Juan Manuel Santos, who likes the player of poker image, made a real bet against all expectations. One month earlier he changed his strategy and hired the controversial campaign adviser J.J. Rendón. Though many believed it would be a suicide, he won.
The change included several key decisions. The first was to associate Santos with Uribe, even though his team initially stood him aside the U Party because of its scandals. The second was to concentrate the campaign on employment, which is, according to surveys, the main concern of Colombian people. Mockus proposed to raise taxes and Santos knew how to take advantage of the situation. Santos will probably have to raise taxes in some way but, as a good candidate, this problem would come later and not while campaigning.
But if all of this explains the overwhelming victory of Santos, how could the unexpected defeat of Mockus be explained.
The Green wave had created enormous expectations and some even said that he may win in the first round. Few weeks ago Mockus was the great political phenomenon, and now the surprise was his rapid fall. The paradox is that while he had great support in Internet and social networks, he didn’t have success in the TV debates, and Santos was able to use this on his favor.
The Green Party wasn’t prepared for its rising. Mockus didn’t anticipate that he would get to the run-off. That’s why he didn’t have time to structure programs and speeches as his rivals did. Germán Vargas Lleras, eventually recognized for the high quality of his programs, took more than two years designing them. Antanas Mockus had to defend himself with this limitation and decided to use his traditional slogans like ‘life is sacred’, ‘public funds are sacred’ or ‘the result doesn’t justify the means’, which initially aroused enormous enthusiasm.
However, he had to face candidates who had been ministers, such as Santos, Pardo and Noemí. Mockus is well known for his intelligence, honesty and legitimacy to propose a change in political practices and end corruption, but in debates and interviews he showed lack of knowledge on key issues, and excessive preference for academic and theoretical disquisitions. This made him look more as a philosopher than a statesman.
During the election campaign, the former Bogotá’s mayor insisted on transparent manners, but this was against the political reality. In March his team gave up nearly 4,000 million pesos for campaign expenses, which he could have used in advertising and other strategies. And at the end of the debate he made a mistake when he said that the next government would have to raise the tax revenue. In both cases he won credibility but lost votes.
These factors coupled with his lack of machinery defined the result. Honesty and transparency are both the greatest strength and the worst weakness of Mockus.
And finally, Mockus campaign relied on the enthusiasm of young voters who finally didn’t participate. Less than the 50 percent of people voted, an usual number for presidential elections. If the Green wave planned to defeat Santos machinery it needed an historical voting of young electors.
Antanas Mockus had a limited political arsenal, unlike Santos. While the U party candidate had the machinery on his favor, Mockus counted only on Internet, columnists, young people and ‘antiuribists’. A weak set compared to the heavy artillery of his opponent. It was an uneven battle, like the one in the movie Avatar. But one thing is Hollywood and another, very different, elections in Macondo.