POLITICS | 1/18/2010 12:00:00 AM
It has begun...
When the presidential elections are only four months and a half away, and still without knowing whether Uribe will be a candidate, all the campaigns have begun to step it up. We present an x-ray of the electoral atmosphere. , 112100
Hundreds of politicians all over the country are anxiously waiting to get their list number in order to compete for the seats in Congress, while many companies who sell T-shirts, hats and banners are already delivering their products, those that will accompany the presidential hopefuls in their tours around the country.
And even though the doubts regarding re-election keep shedding uncertainty on the presidential campaigns, these, due to time considerations, had to get going. We are only 140 days away from the presidential election and 50 for the parliamentary ones. These will be held on march 16, day when two parties, the Conservative and the Green Party, will hold their internal consult that will decide who will be the official presidential candidate in these two collectivities.
Today, more than 300 candidates for the Senate and 400 for the Chamber of Deputies have already signed up on different lists, the main parties have already defined who will be at the head of these and directives of the different parties have begun to adjudicate permits. The pace has moved quickly in the first days of January and from now on, even though we are still under Uribe’s “crossroads of the soul”, it will get even faster.
If nothing unusual happens, the Constitutional Court will emit its verdict on the feasibility on a second presidential reelection in the first days of February. But, what is more, if the Court’s ruling is favorable and Uribe decides to effectively run, this campaign would be the shortest in Colombian history.
The presidential hopefuls are aware of this and have thus decided to start their engines. The opposition candidates, or those who are simply not part of the re-eleccionist trend, like Gustavo Petro, Rafael Pardo, Sergio Fajardo, Germán Vargas, Noemí Sanín and the three former mayors of Bogota who are now in the Green Party, are moving at full steam ahead because they know they have little time left to consolidate their groups. They are avidly looking for able leaders who will draw a crowd and conquer votes from the population that is not happy with the possibility of another Uribe term.
The followers of president Uribe, like Juan Manuel Santos or Andres Felipe Arias, on their part, know they must rush to consolidate their support bases in the eventuality that the president declines from joining the race.
Additionally, all candidates different to Uribe are seeking to take advantage of every second in the competition against an incumbent. They know that the president’s recent statements, in which he said the decision about his re-election was in the hands of “the constitutional court, the people and God” were basically a discreet way of saying that if the referendum is approved, he will run. If this were not his intention, he could have said it by now.
The debate about the frontier between presidential activity and candidate activity is endless. Yet, it is clear that in the absence of a law of guarantees for the second re-election, if the re-election is approved, Uribe’s path is cleared. Four months and a half prior to elections, he continues to engage in communal meetings, granting subsidies and taking advantage of the right he has, as president in exercise, of appearing in mass media. Besides, he has taken some decisions in the past few months that may favor his aspiration. This is the case of gradually leveling the salaries of the town councilors to the level of the mayors’ or granting more subsidies to rural housing.
Also, many sectors were surprised with the intense appearances he made in local and regional radio stations in the last month of 2009. “This is the result of giving in to the petitions made from local radio stations for a long time now, and it is also in the president’s interest to value the needs of these audiences” affirmed Cesar Mauricio Velasquez, Head of Communications in the Presidential Palace. Yet, even though Uribe has appeared in local radio stations since he was candidate for the first time to discuss the details of every region, this intense visiting agenda, right in the middle of electoral season, could be interpreted as a presidential advantage, even more so when by law, presidential candidates can start making appearances in radio stations and paying for radial publicity only in the last three months prior to elections.
The Guarantees Law of 2005 determined that the operators of radio and television must guarantee the balance of information on the presidential campaigns. Yet, nobody know what type of guarantees remain standing. That Law was elaborated for a single re-election and it established a schedule that, this time around, is impossible to meet. If the law remained current, the president would have had to announce on November 30, 2009 his wish to run for re-election. But this did not occur because at the time, just as today, nobody knew what was going to happen with the referendum.
In spite of these limitations, the political parties are ready to go. December was a particularly important month to build the party lists that will accompany the candidates. In the same manner, during the weeks to come, the presidential hopefuls will begin touring the country with the congressional candidates.
This is what Andres Felipe Arias and Noemí Sanin, who will hold a primary to determine who will be the candidate for the conservative party in march alongside other conservatives like Jose Galat, Alvaro Leyva and Marta Lucia Ramirez, have been doing. In a little over a month, and due to the fact that it is an internal consult of the party, they will be able to have radio and T.V publicity. The same day, the three former mayors of Bogota, Antanas Mockus, Enrique Peñalosa and Lucho Garzón will also have a primary to determine who will become the presidential candidate for the Green Party. They have planned various trips around the country, the first one starting on January 15. They are all about equilibrium and mutual support. “Just like in a good restaurant, we will have a menu with three equally good plates” affirms Antanas Mockus regarding their campaign strategy.
And due to the fact that Rafael Pardo, German Vargas and Gustavo Petro could not decide whether to hold an inter-party consult, they will each continue to travel the country, gearing up for the may elections.
Pardo is about done with handing out permits that belong to the Liberal Party that allow politicians to run for the Chamber of Deputies and will now focus his activities on the Caribbean region. Vargas will begin a new phase of presentations of proposals, where he will include aspects like the frontiers, the environmental, the cultural, and healthcare. In February his collectivity, Cambio Radical will hold a national convention where he will be declared presidential candidate. Petro will use the last few months to travel through the country, visiting big cities and looking for votes. Sergio Fajardo, on his part, will focus on his proposals. These will include the fight against corruption and equality of opportunity. He will also begin a whirlwind tour with his senate candidates.
Lastly, Juan Manuel Santos will assume his leadership in La U party. In a meeting scheduled for the 21 of January, he will declare himself director of the party and will hand out permits for Senate and Chamber of Deputies. Then, he will start touring with congress hopefuls, which will give him high visibility among electors and politicians.
Even though we still do not know what will happen with the referendum, the electoral year has begun. Whether Uribe decides to run or not, the campaigns are already moving. They know that with or without guarantees, the clock is ticking for all of them. The opposition and independent candidates have a short amount of time to level up with the president-candidate. And the pro-Uribe candidacies have just a few months to clear up the succession. The race is on.