POLITICS | 3/4/2010 12:00:00 AM
The big race
Without President Uribe in the picture, the presidential campaign is to die for.
Not even in 2006, when Colombia used re-election for the first time in decades, were expectations so great. At that time, due to the fact that president Uribe’s popularity was intact and truly overwhelming, nobody cared about how the majorities in Congress had been manufactured. The Constitutional Court approved re-election and far before election day the polls declared President Uribe as the winner with his competitors miles away.
This has not been the case with Uribe’s third candidacy. The scandals that cracked his favorability, the lame procedures that were used to garner support for his second re-election and the arguments the Constitutional Court held were enough to face the majority who was pro re-election. But while the magistrates decided, politics were literally frozen. Even though the candidates tried to formally kick off the campaign, it did not take off and the competition for congress was as dull as ever.
But with the Court’s negative ruling on the re-election referendum last Friday, the electoral picture changes drastically starting this week.
Now, eight pre-candidates and six candidates, until now in starting positions, will begin the race. The polls, for once, will hold some truth. Until last week, Juan Manuel Santos, Rafael Pardo, Sergio Fajardo, Germán Vargas, Noemí Sanín, Gustavo Petro and Andrés Felipe Arias were only a few points apart, a difference which really means nothing. And next to these dwarfs, president Uribe still held more than 50 percent of the voters.
But now, without Gulliver, the candidates will start to grow and it is yet difficult to know whether some one will take off from here until may 31, the day of the elections, or if the race will be too close to call.
This will also depend on legislative elections, scheduled for march 14. Will the pro-Uribe candidates remain united? Will the conservatives align themselves with the uribists? Will the “Uribism” fall apart without Uribe? The pro-Uribe candidates, who until now hold majority in Congress, will weigh their options between Juan Manuel Santos, the definitive candidate of the U party, and Noemí Sanin and Andres Felipe Arias, the two leading candidates in the conservative party primary (to be held at the same time as the legislative elections). Who best woos them will hold the lead.
Other candidates like Rafael Pardo (From the Liberal Party), Gustavo Petro (form the Polo Democrático), and German Vargas (from Cambio Radical) know that if they win without solid majorities in Congress, they will have the challenge of building a strong coalition to strengthen their new government.
In terms of strategy, there is no change of pace. Most will defend and follow the path of the democratic security, which is still popular at the polls and is recognized as president Uribe’s long lasting legacy.
With the fall of the referendum, the primaries of two political parties, the conservatives and the green party, are sure to vary. In the conservative field, Andres Felipe Arias, who was President Uribe’s Minister of Agriculture may end up as the winner because many pro-reelection voters find him similar to President Uribe. Yet, he may also loose votes to Noemi Sanin, who holds a strong political career. In the green primary, Enrique Peñalosa may see his chances increase because he is seen as more pro-Uribe than his two contenders, Lucho Garzón and Antanas Mockus (all of them are former former mayors of Bogota).
The presidential debates will finally be interesting because until now, the ideas proposed by the candidates had been in the shadow of the battle between those who supported and opposed the presidential re-election. The real electoral race is staring to be fine-tuned.
In the same manner, the candidates will start to think about alliances. Even more so with the president’s new obsession of finding a worthy heir and the Uribism trying to cling to every vote. Eventually, it is not far-fetched to consider an alliance between Juan Manuel Santos and Andrés Felipe Arias to maintain the coalition between the U party and the conservatives. Besides, they have been known for a while as the most faithful followers of the president.
And to balance the forces, an opposition coalition is also possible. Yet, this one is less probable because Fajardo, Petro, Pardo and the “green” candidates all feel their chances have risen in the absence of Uribe. The only thing that is clear is that without the referendum, anything can happen. And this is exactly why this race is now too good to miss.