The Colombian House of Representatives has approved the bill, already passed by the Senate, that will allow a referendum on lifting the current term limit on the presidency. The vote was 85-5, with 76 members not voting.
I still do not get it: the yes votes include members of parties that had already announced their own presidential candidates (who presumably will now suspend their campaigns).
Now only the Constitutional Court can stop it. Or, less likely, the voters.
See previous Colombia plantings for past votes and context.
In the on again, off again saga of the proposed referendum to lift the current two-successive-terms limit on the Colombian presidency, a conference-committee report on the measure has passed the Senate. See Steven Taylor for some comments and puzzlement, with which I am in complete agreement: How did the proposal get through at this late date? Of the many parties in incumbent Alvaro Uribe’s congressional coalition–which had seemed moribund a few week ago–some have already announced presidential candidates, and yet some of those same parties’ senators apparently voted in favor.
Today, El Tiempo notes that the conference report does not face as easy a passage through the House of Representatives. An ongoing Supreme Court case against 86 House members (in a chamber of 163 representatives) regarding potentially illegal inducements they might have accepted, complicates passage in that chamber. (In a terrific irony, one of the members of the most ‘uribista’ parties in the House is named Roy Barreras [Barriers]; it might be better if he were an opposition member, however!)
The story on the House notes:
Germán Vargas Lleras, candidato presidencial de Cambio Radical dijo que miembros de su partido han sido abordados de manera individual y colectiva para inducirlos a votar a favor del referendo.
[Germán Vargas Lleras, Radical Change presidential candidate said that his party members have been approached individually and collectively, to induce them to vote for the referendum.]
Three of the 21 members of his House caucus sided with Uribe in a previous vote in December.
The proposal still must pass each house and then go to a referendum. However, as noted before, the only real obstacle is the congress–or, now, the House. (Perhaps the courts yet could be an obstacle, as well.) It would be a very big surprise if voters either rejected the referendum, or voted to oust Uribe if he is on the ballot next May.
In other Colombian election news, three former mayors of Bogotá (known as The Three Tenors) have established a new political force, Confianza, and will run in the congressional elections of March and the presidential election either on their own, or in affiliation with an existing party (potentially Verde Opción Centro).
Steven Taylor notes that there is new information concerning the assassination of Colombian presidential “pre-candidate” Luis Carlos Galán, which took place twenty years ago yesterday.
As Steven notes:
He was a reform-minded member of the Liberal Party who was practically a shoe-in to win the 1990 election. He was considered by many in Colombia to be an extraordinary politician of the type who inspires a certain level of hope in the population. Of all the assassinations and murders in Colombian history, of which there are a horrendous number, two are perhaps the most prominent: the murder of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on April 9, 1948, which sparked riots in Bogotá and is normally considered the beginning of the civil war know as La Violencia and the killing of Galán.
I was in Bogotá at the time of the killing, and will always remember vividly when my host came in to wake me up and tell me that Galan was dead. My host was a political activist, and was with a different Liberal pre-candidate, but that did not matter. This was a great national tragedy. And it meant scary times. Would there be mass riots again, as in 1948?
The next day, moving around the city was not easy, with checkpoints and military vehicles and heavily armed police on all major corners and in front of many buildings.
After my host engaged in numerous consultations with various contacts, we went ahead the upcoming weekend with our planned drive to Villa de Leyva, one of the most beautiful places in the very beautiful nation of Colombia. There were numerous checkpoints and a few searches on the roads outside of the capital, but not much traffic! And we had the colonial town of Villa de Leyva practically to ourselves. In fact, it was idyllic, in stark contrast to the crisis the country was living at that moment.
Following the assassination, César Gaviria took on the galanista campaign as his own, and became the Liberal nominee and President, elected in 1990. Above is a photo of a billboard for him, taken in my subsequent trip to Bogotá, for the March, 1990, elections (for congress and other offices, as well as a Liberal presidential primary).
Gaviria practically ran as Galán, with the martyred leader’s image looming far larger than the actual candidate’s. But Gaviria was no Galán.
Galán was a charismatic and passionate advocate for cleaner government and political reform. Gaviria, much more technocratic and hardly inspiring, followed through on the reformist push. He was the president at the time that a Constituent Assembly was elected in 1991 to re-write the constitution in ways that have substantially improved the country’s democracy.
The “new information” is that the former head of Colombia’s state security agency, the DAS, has been implicated in the murder. Some of my Colombian friends at the time suspected that, I recall, although the official story has always been that it was Medellin Cartel drug traffickers (and the possibility that it was a joint job is very real). There has never been any official resolution of the crime, at least up to now.
Some days after the assassination, I participated with some of my political-activist friends in the funeral march. (Somewhere I have lots of photos, but I seem not to have ever scanned any of them.) It was a massive outpouring of civic action and revulsion at the violence that has so long afflicted the country–and still does. There were no riots or other disturbances, yet it was a bit scary to be a foreigner marching behind large red banners in such a tense moment in Colombian history.* It was a travel/research experience that I certainly never will forget.
*My friends were with a legal but self-declared revolutionary leftist organization that worked with mainstream party candidates; some of the members of this organization, MOIR, are now in congress).
The most interesting recent developments are that the inter-cameral conference committee has failed to resolve differences in a bill that would have to pass before a referendum could be called on lifting the term limit. If the referendum is held, there is little doubt it will pass, and if Uribe then runs, there is little doubt he would win. The sticking point is thus congress, where Uribe has been backed by a large multiparty coalition since winning his first term in 2002. Some of the parties may finally be remembering that parties running under separate banners are supposed to compete with one another–something predicted in this space over three years ago, but that I thought would not take so long to materialize. Two uribista parties, Cambio Radical and the Conservative Party–have already said they will run their own candidates. And the coalition in congress is no longer unified; in fact, Steven notes that when combined with the Liberal and leftist parties, the opposition to a third term now appears to be in the majority in the Senate.
Good news for Colombian democracy, but this is one of those “developing stories,” as the news folks like to say.
The idea has resurfaced, mentioned by Juan Manuel Santos, the man who until recently was Uribe’s Defense Minister, and who would be a likely successor to Uribe from within the president’s own party, known as La U–technically for Unidad, but obviously really signifying the president’s initial. (Santos legally had to resign to preserve his eligibility for next year’s presidential election.)
Colombia uses a two-round majority system to elect the president, so candidates of various parties, including the several that have backed Uribe, could present separate candidates in the first round, and then combine in the runoff. However, there are some risks in doing so, including that they could split the vote and fail to get any candidate into the runoff (extremely unlikely given their current high popularity, but the French 2002 experience offers a caution) or that they could wind up with a divisive runoff featuring two of their candidates (which is quite a realistic possibility).
Steven Taylor quotes from and discusses the interview, in which Santos suggests the uribista parties would select their single candidate in a consulta among the members of congress of the various parties (the most important of which are La U, Radical Change, and what remains of the traditional Conservative party).
Such an elite-driven pre-selection could be hard to enforce, given the temptation of any party that suspects its candidate to be more popular with voters than with legislators to defect and run in the first round of the popular election. In fact, Steven also notes that Radical Change is flirting with the possibility of joining the opposition Liberal party (from which most of its leaders defected to back Uribe’s first campaign in 2002).
It is worth noting that Colombian electoral law permits parties to hold a popular primary, which would be concurrent with the congressional elections (about two months before the first round of the presidential election). However, I do not think the law permits two or more parties to hold a joint primary to select a single candidate for a pre-electoral alliance, though these parties would have the votes to make such a change, if they wanted to do so.
In any event, the above shows the posturing of the various uribista successors, and implies that the question of whether Uribe will indeed run for a third term may not yet be settled. A constitutional amendment to allow the president to run again has cleared several of its key legal hurdles and is likely to be submitted to a referendum (which would almost certainly approve it). In the meantime, La U the man remains cagey about his intentions.
A small personal note: Back in 1989 I met and interviewed Santos twice (once at a conference near Washington, DC, and once in his then-office at El Tiempo in Bogota). I most certainly had the impression I was meeting a future leader of his country. The broader point is that the Colombian political system has numerous qualified leaders, and there really is no objective reason to believe that only Uribe can provide continuity to the very considerable successes his own presidency has achieved. The pressing question for Colombian institutions is whether they are strong enough to resist the temptation to cast their lot yet again with the emerging jefe maximo.
The final vote for the referendum that would allow a second reelection for Álvaro Uribe in Colombia was 62-5 in the Colombia Senate (it has 102 members). The caucuses of the Liberal Party (PL) and the Democratic Alternative Pole (PDA) both abstained from the vote. The official results from the 2006 elections put the PL at 18 votes and the PDA at 10, for 28 total. As such, there were seven others that did not vote yesterday (62+5+18+10=95).
Further details and links are included in his post.
As someone who has followed Colombian politics now for 20 years (including several trips to the country), and who was quite involved as an outsider assisting the very important legislative electoral-system reform passed in 2003, I am quite alarmed by this development. It has been expected for some time, but there was always the chance Uribe might have called it off by announcing he would not seek a third term. When he was elected in 2002, the constitution permitted only a single term; he then obtained an amendment to permit a second term, which he won easily in 2006. He should win easily again. (This amendment must be submitted to a referendum, but it is sure to pass.)
Both reelection amendments have been passed through legal processes, unlike some others in the region in the past that have come through institutional rupture (e.g. in Peru and Venezuela) or threats of rupture (e.g. Argentina when Carlos Menem was president). In some ways, that is what is so disturbing. The legislative electoral reforms were supposed to have empowered more meaningful parties, and there were indications in the first post-reform election, 2006, that they had done so. Furthering party development has had the predicted and desirable effect of making the congress more relevant in lawmaking. It also “should have” led to competition over national leadership, the ultimate prize for which is the presidency. Uribe does not have a single party, but rather is backed by several. One might have expected that these parties would have produced contending leaders, rather than have subordinated themselves to a single “above parties” jefe.* Alas, one would have been wrong to assume that, and now one must wonder whether the hard-won independence of the parties, the congress, and other institutions can survive.
This is a sad turn of events for Colombian democracy.
My latest paper, now under review, is now posted at my Working Papers page (scroll down, past the list of “Research projects in progress,” for a link to the paper in PDF).
Title: ‘Party System Rationalisation and the Mirror Image of Interparty and Intraparty Competition: The Adoption of Party Lists in Colombia” (co-authored with MÃ³nica PachÃ³n).
Abstract: We analyze the adoption of a party-list electoral system in Colombia, replacing a former highly â€˜personalisedâ€™ system (in which seats were allocated solely on candidate votes). Consistent with theoretical expectations, there were two major changes. First, the party system was â€˜rationalisedâ€™: the number of parties competing is now more consistent across districts. Formerly one-party dominant districts now feature interparty competition, and districts that formerly had numerous tiny parties now have fewer parties. Second, changes in the intraparty dimension â€˜mirrorâ€™ those on the interparty dimension: where interparty competition increased, intraparty competition decreased, and vice versa. The results are important to both practical reform efforts and furthering knowledge on the effects of electoral systems and their reform.
Comments on the paper are invited, either here or at one of my e-mail addresses.
This planting inaugurates a new orchard block of work in progress that I hope to use regularly as a way of announcing new postings at my academic website.
And, of course, congratulations to MÃ³nica, who just defended her Ph.D. and is now starting her new academic job at the Universidad de los Andes!
The same BBC news broadcast that had the video of Zimbabwe’s vote-rigging, which I mentioned earlier today, also ran some amazing footage of the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt. For some reason, there is no sound (unlike on the segments that were broadcast on TV), but unlike the Zimbabwe footage, this one actually plays for me on BBC’s video player.
Given her hours-long detention and her negotiations with Farc rebels, I imagined she must have been part of Colombia’s leftist alliance. No. She is in the most mainstream of mainstream Colombian parties, even if that party is now in opposition to Uribe.
In 2006, the first party-list PR election, she was elected to the Senate with the eleventh highest preference-vote share of the seventeen Liberal candidates elected.1 So she is in the mainstream of the mainstream.2 Yet she was detained by US authorities, despite her diplomatic passport.
For Spanish readers, El Tiempo has a brief report.
38,506 votes, or 2.6% of the preference votes cast for her party in the single national Senate district. By comparison, the candidate elected first, Juan Manuel LÃ³pez Cabrales, had 119,505 votes (8.2%) and the seventeenth and last winner, Cecilia Matilde LÃ³pez MontaÃ±o, had 31,657 (2.2%). [↩]
Not that her detention would have been OK were she from even some far-left party. She is an elected Senator of a democratic country. Still, it is remarkable that US authorities treated so badly a Senator from the party that has provided all but three of a US ally’s presidents since the restoration of fully competitive elections in 1974. [↩]
There is now also a proposal being floated to repeat the congressional elections of the same year (2006) that Uribe was reelected.
My comment to Steven’s post is replanted (in part) here, thought it probably makes more sense to someone reading both of Steven’s posts on the subject.
There is no good reason to repeat the congressional elections, even if one accepts Uribeâ€™s premise (which I most certainly do not). Their constitutionality is not at issue. They were held under the reformed electoral law, which was completely separate from the presidential-reelection measure.
The bigger issue here is that the Supreme Court really made a terrible decision, politically (I have no opinion on its validity constitutionally/legally). Some things really canâ€™t be admissible after the fact. The time for bringing charges against an amendment permitting reelection is before said reelection goes forward. Now it is a done deal, and the Court saying otherwise is simply handing a popular president a political issue to hammer the opposition with further. Pretty much totally contradictory (politically) to the (constitutional) issue the Court was judging.
A further question I have here is whether the Supreme Court even had authority to address this issue, by which I mean the constitutionality of the reelection amendment itself, not the bribery case against a legislator who voted for it. Colombia has a Constitutional Court, which is an entirely separate institution2 to address such institutional matters.
Also on this see Greg Weeks (entries Friday and Saturday, as well as a comment at the above-linked post by Taylor) and boz.
In part because I am trying to finish up a paper on–guess what–the 2006 Colombian elections! [↩]
And like most such bodies around the world, less isolated from the political process than is the Supreme Court. The logic behind the model of a Constitutional Court (or council or tribunal) is that, because it necessarily impinges directly on “political” concerns, it should be on a somewhat shorter leash, but with mixed representation from the various political branches. [↩]
Greg Weeks follows up on some recent discussion of a potential third term for Colombian President Alvaro Uribe. Greg cites a recent statement by Luis Carlos Villegas, the head of an important industrial group. Vilegas recently said that, while he believes Uribe is the best president Colombia has ever had, his staying in power would be “dangerous” for the country.
Greg asks whether Uribe, who is at approximately the halfway point of his second consecutive four-year term, will listen.
My thoughts, based on my own observations of Colombian politics, follow.
It is not as though it is only his choice. He has not one, but several parties in his coalition, which is thus loaded with ambitious politicians who have a national profile.1 They can be certain to make life difficult for him if he pushes for a third term. And, as Greg’s post makes clear, there are important allies outside of congress and the parties who are ready to urge him against pursuing another term.
Uribe would need a constitutional amendment, and I do not think he could get it through congress and the constitutional court (as he did, rather easily, for the previous change to allow two consecutive terms).
So, how would he get it? Call a para-constitutional referendum (he has no such clear authority)? That would be a coup, in effect, and I do not believe he would have sufficient support in any institution to pull that off.2 He may have the public support, but I suspect it would fall apart as soon as the inevitable clash of institutions began. I also suspect he knows that, cares about his legacy as “the best president Colombia has ever had,” and will not push the matter too hard (or have surrogates push it too hard).
Maybe I am overstating the institutionalization of Colombian democracy. But I do not think so.
Aided greatly by the single national senate district in use since the current constitution of 1991 came into effect. That is, some of these ambitious politicians have run national campaigns in several recent cycles. Others are governors, as was Uribe before winning the presidency in 2002. [↩]
Previous cases of presidents in Latin America who have obtained major constitutional change over the heads of congress–ChÃ¡vez, Fujimori and Menem, as well as the Barco and Gaviria administrations in Colombia in 1990-91 (where immediate reelection of an incumbent was not an issue)–have actually had crucial support in either the courts or the military, if not in congress. Moreover, all of those cases were considerably less institutionalized than Colombia is today, or so I would be inclined to argue. As I have stated before, Uribe’s successful quest for a constitutional change allowing a second term has much more in common with Brazil under Cardoso than with the other examples cited here. His potential quest for a third term would look more like Menem’s, which evaporated in the absence of institutional support and turned out to be a huge embarrassment for him. I do not think Uribe would get even as far as Menem did, let alone as far as Fujimori did. It should be remembered, that despite far lower institutionalization (it could be argued) in Peru, Fujimori could not pull it off. Uribe may be more popular now and in 2010 than Fujimori was at the turn of the century, but that would be balanced by the greater institutionalization of Colombian democracy and the greater diversity of the president’s supporting coalition. [↩]
It is not clear how a “primary” could be established to provide for five distinct parties to select a common presidential candidate (that’s the gist of it, for you non-Spanish readers). However, I did previously suggest that the various parties backing the reelection of President Uribe were going to have to find a way both to differentiate themselves (because they never were and won’t become “un solo partido”), while at the same time jockeying for position to succeed Uribe.
Colombia’s Senator Alvaro Araujo made headlines this past week when he was arrested for suspicion of ties to paramilitaries involved in the drug trade.
Over at Steven Taylor’s new Colombian politics blog, I asked whether the Senator was a â€œlist pullerâ€ (i.e. lots of preference votes) or trailer. That is, might we infer whether he was elected because of, or in spite of, his allies?
In 2006, the first election in Colombia using a list PR system* (with parties having the option of presenting open or closed lists), Araujo was elected on the (open) list of the Movimiento Alas Equipo Colombia (quite a name). As has been widely reported, this party was indeed one of several that President Alvaro Uribe endorsed prior to the 2006 elections.
The list won 439,678 votes, and 20% of these were cast just for the list. Alvaro Araujo Castro won 66,234, the second highest total of any of the party’s candidates and 15.1% of the party total. (Oscar Suarez Mira won 15.3% and no other candidate had more than 7.7%.) The party elected five senators.
Looks like Araujo was the very definition of a list-puller.
In fact, Araujo was one of the most popular candidates in the election. His preference vote total was the 11th highest across all parties in the nationwide district and his share of his own list’s preference votes was the 7th highest of all candidates across all parties.
He was also elected to the senate in 2002, when the electoral system was essentially SNTV. That is, rather than run on party lists, each legislator was elected on a “personal list” based on how many votes he or she obtained as a candidate.** In that election, Araujo won 77,891 votes, the 16th highest in the 100-seat national district.
This, of course, does not “prove” that his drug and paramilitary ties bought him votes, but it sure doesn’t look like the connection hurt him.
There have been several members of the current Colombian congress arrested or implicated. If someone can provide this lazy blogger with their names, I will look them up in my data files.
* For details, just click on “Colombia” at the top of the post and scroll. The elections were last March, and before and after I posted quite a bit on the reformed electoral system and its impact.
* * There were a few exceptions, where one of these lists obtained enough votes to elect more than one candidate, but the vast majority were elected as the only winning candidate on their own list.
From El Tiempo, a column by Fernando Cepeda Ulloa analyzes the recent results of Colombia’s political reforms. I am too lazy to translate this, so apologies to my readers who don’t understand Spanish. I will copy the first three paragraphs only. It is the third that is particularly noteworthy!
La Ley de Bancadas servirÃ¡ para ponerles orden a los debates en el Congreso. Hay que modernizar el sistema electoral.
El impacto de la reforma polÃtica
El Consejo Nacional Electoral ha informado que un buen nÃºmero de los partidos inscritos ya dejaron de serlo porque no cumplen los requisitos.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4