PRESIDENTIAL RACE | 3/24/2010 12:00:00 AM
The Green's Man
Antanas Mockus replaces Sergio Fajardo as the new opinion vote phenomenon.
In almost every poll Fajardo was first or second alternating with Juan Manuel Santos. The credit for reaching this position is enormous: he didn’t have big financial resources nor congressmen, nor television advertising. He traveled all over the country establishing personal contact with people.
All that changed in eight days. A miscalculation in the legislative elections deflated his candidacy. But which mistakes produced this fall? First, participating in legislative elections when his prestige was strictly personal. Although he had the potential to reach the threshold, given the machinery to which he faced, in any case he would had been a loser. His name didn’t appear in any placard, and instead was the name of his movement Compromiso Ciudadano por Colombia, devoid of any association with him. To make it worse, the logo that identified his movement lists in the Senate was entirely different from the Alianza Social Indígena, which was the movement that endorsed his lists for the House of Representatives. Voting for Fajardos’ lists was very complex.
To this we must add another strategic mistake: refusing to team up with the three former Bogotá mayors –Antanas Mockus, Lucho Garzón and Enrique Peñalosa, together in the new Green Party- when it was foreseeable that he would have been the presidential candidate in that alliance. With his national prestige and the support he held in Antioquia department, the Green Party could conquer more than the 1,600,000 votes that it obtained in the legislative elections, and would have gotten more than two million, becoming one of the likely finalists in the runoff.
That didn’t happen. In politics, mistakes are expensive and the immediate effect of the legislative elections was that Sergio Fajardo lost what Americans call momentum, which could be defined as the boost generated by the expectation of triumph.
Today almost no one in Colombia contemplates the possibility that Fajardo gets to the second round. And everything that was said about him yesterday, now is said of Antanas Mockus. The consolation is that four years ago the situation was reversed: Mockus and Peñalosa were deflated because their lists didn’t reach the threshold.
The momentum now is for the former mayor of Bogotá. This is unexpected considering that his party remained as the penultimate force during the past legislative elections. But taking in account that political victories can become as important as absolute victories, the fact that the 'three tenors' (as the former mayors are called) had achieved a result much higher than expected turned them into winners. In addition, the campaign with the concept of a trio, initially seemed as a sign of weakness, but eventually became a symbol of harmony, innovation, joy and good vibrations. It seemed odd that three people could campaign together when they were competing for the same candidature. But that original formula was identified by a significant section of voters as the new politics that before embodied Fajardo.
This alternative will have the same advantages and disadvantages that the former mayor of Medellín had at the time. Surely this will be a phenomenon driven by students, young professionals and academics, as it has showed the outpouring support of social networks. Mockus official Facebook page already has more than 100.000 people, number that triples any of his rivals.
But one thing is an opinion phenomenon and another the possibility of achieving the goal. Mockus will have to face many of the obstacles encountered by Fajardo. Starting from the fact that both compete for the same electorate, because although Fajardo's campaign suffered a blow, he is still running.
In Colombia, the competition is beginning. Just think that Juan Manuel Santos starts with 34 seats in Congress from the U and PIN parties, while Mockus only has five form the Green party. In most parts of the country the vote buying defines the result. And definitely that is not the style of Mockus.
He has a very high image favorability, 55 percent, but also a considerable negative, 34, which means that his iconoclastic professor image is not a universal product. Mockus is certainly a symbol of ethics and civic culture. But in the realpolitik world what it is usually imposes on what is mean to be. In a country with such specific problems as poverty, inequality, violence, guerrilla, drug trafficking and corruption, his proposals often sound abstract and theoretical. His speeches sometimes seem with more metaphors and parables than solutions. His scenario is television, not the main square. Honesty and transparency, with which he assumes this role, are both his strength and weakness.
In conclusion, everyone agrees that Antanas Mockus is different. What remains to be seen is whether in 2010 the Colombian people, who always want change, prefer a product so different.