REELECTION | 2/2/2010 12:00:00 AM
Full steam head
The campaign machinery of president Álvaro Uribe makes the other campaigns look like a child’s play
On any given day, his agenda is filled with appointments tailored for a president-candidate. On Saturday, January 23rd he visited San José del Guaviare for a community council. On Sunday he visited Soacha, the epicenter of the ‘false-positives’ scandal, and introduced the “agenda of conciliation” which is no different from an ordinary community council, except that it lasts four hours. On Monday he traveled to Barranquilla to preside over a Security Council. And apparently, history starts repeating itself. The security council is not a top-level private affair. Instead, it is an open meeting where townspeople are invited and beckoned to discuss their troubles. From there, he went to Medellin, his hometown, to inaugurate a textile fair, check up on the infrastructure for the next South American games and—in a déjà vu from Uribe I- announce that university students will be government informants.
This is without a doubt an agenda most presidential candidates would envy. Especially because all this paraphernalia does not cost President Uribe one cent. While for any other candidate this mini tour would cost around 50 million pesos and it would not be easy to gather important dignitaries of every region at whim.
But the presidential agenda is the least important matter. There will always be arguments to justify that the president’s appointments are necessary to govern and not to seek re-election.
Another key point of Uribe’s campaign are the interviews he holds with local radio stations since past December. He spends a minimum of 45 minutes on extended interviews, and on one occasion he dedicated more than one hour and a half. In some cases, these interviews become community councils where the citizens called and asked questions to the president directly.
Uribe’s discourse is truly particular. He makes a recount of his years as head of state and his contributions to any given city, and he tries to make a marked contrast between the situation seven years ago and the current situation under his government.
In the Casa de Nariño -the presidential palace- everybody denies this is a campaign strategy. Press secretary Cesar Mauricio Velásquez explained the interviews saying “they are the result of months of lobbying from the part of the radio stations as well as the president’s interest in catering to the needs of these audiences.”
But examining the presidential web site, where all these interviews are posted, no other interview with a local radio station appears for the last three years. And when Semana contacted four different radio stations they affirmed the president’s press secretary had been the one that had contacted them to offer the interviews. In one case, the president called directly while the radio show “The moment of truth” was on the air. And as a part of this door to door strategy, the Casa de Nariño decided to create clones of the community councils. There are even some teleconferences in which the president is not present, but all his aides are on the line and they discuss matters with local mayors. All this to say that when its about direct contact with the people, Uribe is miles ahead of his other contenders.
Another important chapter in his campaign strategy is the one that has been developed in Congress. On December 29, with the entire country away for the holidays, the government signed a law that improves the salary of the town councilors, especially those from the smallest regions of the country. As an example, a councilor who made 4.8 million pesos (about 2.500 dollars a month) will now make 10.3 million pesos (about 5.000 dollars). They have also been benefited by other measures and they will likely demonstrate their support for the president in months to come.
In political theory, the increase in public spending is easily associated with populist ways. The subsidies for poor families -without discussing if they are positive or not- have skyrocketed and today they cover 2.2 million families. Discreetly, the president has been concentrating the ability to give money directly to the people while eliminating intermediaries like congressmen and local authorities. He personalized the responsibility of the entire State and the people in the street understand this as a magnanimous offer form him , and not as a fundamental duty of the State.
With this situation, there is no law of guarantees that will work. Even though it was created in 2005 to guarantee the minimums of electoral competition between regular candidates and the President-candidate, it is clear that in this second re-election, thanks to the uncertainty that President Uribe has so cunningly crafted, there has not been an equal competition in the electoral process.