Sunday, 30 May 2010

Beyond Blighty: Oh gloria inmarcesible

A few weeks ago I received an email from a friend of mine in Bogotá, who talked of an excitingly close election which could see a change in government for the first time in over a decade. She was not however, talking about the UK election.

Today Colombians are going to the polls to elect their next President, who in Colombia is the head of the executive as well as head of state. If no one candidate gets more than 50% of the vote there will be a run-off election next month between the two highest polling candidates in today's vote.

The incumbent, Alvaro Uribe, has been President for the last eight years, having served two terms. The constitution prevents him from running for a third, which President Uribe must think is a shame as he currently has an approval rating of about 60%. In fact President Uribe did try to change the constitution to allow him to run for another term – but this was vetoed by Colombia's constitution court.

You might have thought that President Uribe's popularity would aid his hand chosen successor – the former Defence Minister, Juan Manuel Santos - but Uribe's choice isn't doing as well as expected. Mr. Santos still leads the polls but not enough to avoid a run-off election. The other main candidate is Antanas Mockus, the former Mayor of Bogotá and the Green party candidate – he was also diagnosed with Parkinson's disease earlier this year.

One of the criticisms of the UK election was all the main parties were effetely the same ideologically - this cannot be said of the Colombian election. Mr. Santos would continue the conservative legacy of President Uribe, Mr. Mockus on the other hand would signal a radical change in Colombia's domestic and foreign policy.

Change is an exciting prospect in any election, but a radical shift in politics at the top might destabilise some of Colombia's more delicate issues such as fighting against powerful drug cartel and left-wing guerrilla groups.

Santos and Mockus are both far ahead of all the other candidates in the polls and are likely to face a run-off vote, in which anything could happen. Expect more from the land of Shakira very soon.

My Colombian friend just Skyped me to say that Juan Manuel Santos received 47% of the vote, with Antanas Mockus only getting about 22%.

This is something of a surprise, as it was expected to be much closer. There will be a run-off but it seems almost certain Mr. Santos will be Colombia's next President. It seems continuity has won over change.

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