Democracy

Colombian presidential candidate accused of illegal campaigning

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Colombian presidential candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga faces possible sanction by the National Electoral Council (CNE) who today began an investigation into supposed illegal campaign activity ahead of next year´s election.

Zuluaga stands accused of paying for a series of nation-wide publicity stunts well before the election period begins 9 December. Colombian law prohibits candidates from spending even a penny on electioneering before the official campaign starts. Zuluaga will fall foul of the rules if the CNE chief Nora Tapia considers his promotional material to be a direct pitch for the Colombians´ vote.

Zuluaga argues that the offending material, a collection of billboard adverts attacking the Santos government and the peace process currently underway with the FARC in Havana, was commissioned to encourage Colombians to “reflect on the peace talks”. The former minister defended the campaign claiming:

“My interest has been just to voice a question that millions of we Colombians ask about these negotiations. The objective was to spark a debate which is healthy in a democracy, and necessary for the country´s future”.

Zuluaga is hoping to be chosen by the Democratic Centre movement, loyal to former president Alvaro Uribe, as its official candidate for the presidential elections next May.

Although not yet called up by the atorney´s office, his fellow would-be Democratic Centre top dog, Pacho Santos has also commissioned a series of adverts strikingly similar in tone and content to those of Zuluaga and is possible the CNE could turn its gaze towards the former vice president.

The specific problem the CNE claim to have highlighted is that Zuluaga appears alongside President Uribe…The implication being that Zuluaga is “running” with the “support” of Uribe.

Democratic Centre spiritual leader and former president Alvaro Uribe jumped to the defence of his men, claiming the billboards part of a legitimate national discussion in a country that would no accept “a loss of freedoms”.

Colombia Politics view 

Whether or not you agree either with the Democratic Centre, its politics, or its hard-hitting billboards, it is difficult to see how the CNE´s move is favourable for Colombia´s democracy.

Currently Colombians have more of an elective than a participative democracy. A decision by the state to make politics less political and less argumentative should not be welcomed.

Colombia´s archaic and arcane laws prohibit the natural evolution of politics. Take for example the bizarre notion that quote “ministers are not allowed to campaign or “do politics” – yes, the constitution prohibits active ministers from taking part in a political battle. Why? What for? Aren´t politicians supposed to stand for election on a platform, to fight for your vote?

Colombia needs a more open, direct democracy that involves the citizens rather than excluding them. Zuluaga and Santos´billboards might not be the most sophisticated of political communication strategies, but they nevertheless encourage debate.

Why shouldn´t politicians be able to express their opinion – or even actively campaign? Surely, as they say in the US, the campaign is permanent.

And what of the billboards themselves?

Our view on the Democratic Centre´s campaign is that it plays too much to what in the Anglo-Saxon world we call “dog-whistle” politics. Comparing Pablo Escobar to the FARC chief negotiator Ivan Marquez by asking who killed more policemen, for example, leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth.

And the tactic of attacking the peace talks almost per se not only lacks nuance but is a flawed election strategy – put bluntly, politicians do not win elections by being the “no candidate”. An alternative vision must be presented if the Democratic Centre is to poll well next year.

For now, we hope the case is dropped and politicians can get on with the job of trying to convince us to vote for them.

Picture, La Tierra

80% label Colombia´s politicians “corrupt”

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Colombians say corruption is worsening in a poll released today by anti-corruption NGO Transparency International, with politicians condemned as the worst culprits.

In a damning indictment on the way the country is run, 80 per cent of Colombians believe both the congress and the nation´s political parties have their snouts in the trough.

Faith in public institutions – across the board – is plummeting, with nearly half of those asked claiming that overall levels of corruption had increased significantly.

Nearly two thirds of Colombians believe the judiciary is engaged in improper practices, while 70 per cent right off the chicanery of government officials.

No high-profile public body escapes unscathed. The police, the military, and Colombia´s healthcare providers have lost the trust of over 50 per cent of the country.

What is the government doing to fix the problem?

President Santos began his period in office promising to stamp out the corrupt practices that have long put a break on the country´s progress. He signed off a series of laws designed to aid transparency and bring to justice those caught stealing from the public purse.

Despite this, Colombians remain highly sceptical of their representatives nearly half of whom in the 2006 to 2010 congress were investigated for their ties to paramilitaries, and 10% of whom in this parliament have been impeached.

And Transparency International´s March 2013 report also sees very little to cheer in Santos´reforms.

The new institutional reforms promoted by the government of President Santos—the new Anti-corruption Act of 2011, and the creation of a new Anti-corruption office in the Presidency—have not contributed to curbing corruption. To the contrary, in Transparency International´s 2012 Corruption Perception Index, the country received the worse score in ten years, going from 57 in 2002 to 94 in 2012.

Corruption in Colombia is not just the responsibility of those in power, however. 79% of Colombians believe they can oil the machine by bribing officials, and nearly a third admitted someone in their family had greased the palm of a policeman.

So should we worry about this, after all isn´t it just a poll?

Corruption is perceived to be getting worse in many countries, of course. Let us be honest; when asked, who really replies that they believe their politicians are getting cleaner, and more transparent? So perhaps we shouldn´t be too dismayed?

This might be true, but Colombia Politics believe that to ignore these figures as part of the flotsam and jetsam of modern life would be a mistake.

Ok, perceptions of corruption might be getting worse in Europe and elsewhere, but Colombia already starts from an unflattering position. She ranked alongside Mongolia and India in last year´s Transparency International corruption index.

That things are getting worse should sound alarm bells in the presidential palace. Juan Manuel Santos has staked much of his reputation on pulling the nation up by its bootstraps, forcing it to eat at the table with the big boys. He wants Colombia to be seen as a member of an emerging elite.

But so long as there is a perceived breakdown in the social contract between the people and their representatives, development will be stunted. Former presidential candidate and now Antioquia Governor, Sergio Fajardo famously said that corruption was the number one problem in Colombia.

Over the past weeks we have seen Brazilians take to the streets in their millions to force their government to act to root out corruption. Santos must fear that Colombians too will soon conclude enough is enough.

 

Uribe, the greatest Colombian? Give me a break

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Why uribistas still consider that Uribe is “El Gran Colombiano”: Deciphering uribista ideology for non-uribistas.

This column is dedicated to my fellow non-uribistas. My heart goes out to them. Any reasonable Colombian should by now have acknowledged and internalized that Alvaro Uribe was much less than a good president, in fact the most basic of analysis will prove how his administration was nothing short of disastrous for Colombia. A deeper analysis will probably send us to psychiatric therapy.

Being a political ally of terrorist groups, using his power within the State to commit crimes, fostering state policy against human rights activists, selling the country to the lowest bidder, and bribing to secure his re-election are just some of the things we should hold Uribe accountable for. If we also take into account that he destroyed relations with our neighbors, and that his big claim to fame, his security policy, wasn’t even that much of a success (if you don’t believe me read la Silla Vacia’s report on how kidnappings didn’t decrease at all during Uribe’s administration), the perplexity regarding his high popularity only increases.

The fact that we know this only makes it more astonishing, confusing and offensive when we hear the foolish, yet irritating news that Uribe was chosen as “El Gran Colombiano”. Apparently, this game is some sort of common-sense popularity contest supposed to establish who the greatest Colombian of all time was. Astonishing, confusing, and offensive….and yet, it is still a bit of laugh.

Of course, the reasonable non-uribista will have a much more difficult time when friends and family which he or she knows, loves, respects and/or admires, also declare themselves uribistas. Unlike, El Gran Colombiano, in this situation, we cannot dismiss this people as idiots or morally deficient, we know them; we know they are good, honest, friendly, hardworking, helpful, goodhearted people…..so why on Earth would they go along with this uribista nonsense?

Political philosopher Slavoj Zizek can truly be enlightening in this regard. He has become world famous by deciphering the thought of today’s right-wing thinking, and how it has become completely uninfluenced by reason and knowledge. It is all based on belief, and when I say belief I refer to what former US president George W. Bush’s administration’s referred to as a “gut feeling”; Remember the famous statement “All these things give me kind of a gut feeling, not that I have a specific threat that I have in mind right now, but we are entering a period of increased vulnerability”, made by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, regarding terrorism threats

Our starting point to understand more about this “gut feeling” will be an example given by Zizek himself. Consider the following affirmation “I know that there is not a small dragon in my room, yet I believe that there is”, or in other words, I have a “gut feeling” that there is a small dragon in my room. There is truly nothing illogical about this statement.

Very well, this small concept is crucial to understanding uribista proceedings. We can apply this example to many situations (but we should we leave that to uribistas). For example, I know that indigenous people are not inferior, but I have a “gut feeling” that they are. I know the poor do not deserve to be poor, but I have a “gut feeling” that they do. I know Uribe is up to his neck in paramilitary activity, bribery, and criminality, but I have a “gut feeling” that he is not a part of any of those things.

But there is more. We know that from a rational standpoint, Catholicism and Capitalism are mutually exclusive. Think of the catholic imperatives, “we are all children of god”, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”, “solidarity with thy fellow man”, etc. Now think of the capitalist imperatives of “my only responsibility is improving my lot”, “the poor are lazy losers and we hurt them by giving them State aid”, “we should not tax the rich”, etc. In spite of this evident contradiction between Catholicism and Capitalism, Uribe a fundamentalist Catholic Opus Dei member, is also the champion of capitalist neo-liberalism in Colombia. This is the same belief that allows certain United States Republican party members to be anti-Semite, pro-Israel Zionists.

So, if Uribe, (and me, and you and everybody) knows that Capitalism and Catholicism are mutually exclusive, non-compatible forms of thought, is he lying to us, deceiving us, playing us for fools when he politically stands before Colombians representing both? Not even in the smallest degree. Uribe might well know, that Capitalism and Catholicism are mutually exclusive, yet he certainly beliefs that they are not. This is the essence of uribista thought. Regardless of the facts at his or her disposal, an uribista’s “gut feeling” is all he or she truly knows.

To find out more about what uribistas know, remember Donald Rumsfeld’s famous justification for the US invasion of Iraq: “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

So there are things that we know that we know (you know that Petro is mayor of Bogota, and you know that you know that Petro is the mayor of Bogota). There are things that we know we don’t know (You don’t know how many people are in living in the streets of Bogota, and you know that you don’t know how many people are living in the streets of Bogota). Finally, there are things that we don’t know that we don’t know (Saddam Hussein’s plan to use WMDs against the US, Piedad Cordoba’s secret plans to emigrate to North Korea and procreate a communist dynasty, Bayern Munich’s secret wish to fire Guardiola and hire Chiqui Garcia). Of course, these are all valid reasons to invade Iraq.

What Rumsfeld failed to note (what a surprise), and Zizek points out, is that there is one piece of the matrix missing. There are known, unknowns. Things that we know, but we don’t know that we know them. Is this not the very “gut feeling” itself?

Uribistas know that Uribe will never spend a single day in jail, but they don’t know that they know it. Uribistas know that Uribe does not make mistakes, but they don’t know that they know it. Uribistas know that Uribe does not lie, but they don’t know that they know it. Uribistas know that Uribe has a right to kill, bribe, etc. but they don’t know that they know this.

And this is why, it is crucial that Santos’ uribista government keep appearances. Yidis Medina is in jail for receiving bribes from Uribe’s men, but they are free (they had nothing to do with it). Uribe’s protégé and former DAS top man Jorge Noguera is in Jail for illegally wiretapping Uribe’s imagined enemies (but Uribe had nothing to do with it). There are convicted people for the disgraceful Angro Ingreso Seguro program, but according to Uribito they, (both Uribe and Uribito) had nothing to do with it.

Of course, they know that they had something to do with it, we know they had something to do with it, the courts know they had something to do with it………most of all Uribistas know that they had something to do with it. They all know that we all know, and yet, the denial goes on.

If you find this silly, you’re completely right (not right-wing of course). But this happens all the time. Again, Zizek provides an amazing example. Think of one Alfred Hitchhock’s movies, Vertigo, filmed at the beginning of the 20th Century. In one of the scenes in Vertigo, there is a woman in bed covered by some blankets. After you see the woman, the next scene shows women’s underwear hanging on a rope. History tells us that what spectators saw as women’s underwear in vertigo were actually cloth rags made to look like women’s underwear.

The reason for this was that a censorship committee forced the makers of Vertigo to use cloth rags instead of actual women’s underwear. Why would the censors do this? Using women’s underwear would make viewers think that the woman in the bed was naked. Of course, viewers would think this anyway, because the hanging cloth rags in fact looked exactly like women’s underwear, nudity was still implied. So who were the censors censoring for? Perhaps it is the same person for whom uribistas must demonstrate that Uribe is “El Gran Colombiano”.

–Grande Zizek

Casanare and Colombia’s vote-buying democracy

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Colombia’s oil rich Casanare department long a supposed political stronghold of right wing paramilitaries, yesterday voted in Marco Tulio Ruiz as its new governor amid accusations of corruption and vote buying.

Pictures emerged over the weekend of the new governor’s election team giving away household goods in what looked like an illegal version of a village raffle. Washing machines, fridges and other household appliances, brandished with the aspirant governor’s campaign branding, were handed out to the lucky winners in the packed local square.

Despite this, Internal Minister in President Santos’ s government Fernando Carrillo, hailed the organization of the elections, claiming they were evidence of Colombia’s advancing democracy, labelling them “a top example of security and participation”.

Carrillo’s team had deployed the Inspector General’s office, the registry and extra policing to ensure the vote occurred with the minimum level of interruption or irregularity.

Casanare has an unfortunate history of corruption. Since 1992, when regional elections began, the department has seen 14 governors, a total of five of whom have been removed from office for improper practices. Yesterday’s election itself was called to replace Nelson Marino who was elected to serve until 2015, but was impeached by the Inspector General for suspicious behaviour in the award of lucrative state contracts (he is also being investigated for links to paramilitary groups). The influence of the disgraced Mr Marino looks set to remain however. Tulio Ruiz was elected for the same Afrovides movement having been endorsed by his old boss.

In Casanare is the same story in danger of repeating itself, but with different characters?

Picture, El Espectador

Colombia´s ego-driven presidential race

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Colombia´s `presidential election campaign has yet officially to begin but the list of candidates continues to grow as Green Party former Bogotá Mayor, Enrique Peñalosa this month threw his hat in the ring.

But Peñalosa, like three other candidates pitching for the top job –  Conservatives Martha Lucía Ramírez, and José Félix Lafaurie, and Liberal Eduardo Verano de la Rosa – is not even certain of securing the support of his own party.

Bizarre as it seems, many within the Green Party claim not to have heard about Peñalosa´s candidacy before he went public, and odder still is the party´s muted and ambivalent reaction following the announcement.

Are the Greens really a political party?

The Greens appear split from top to toe. And not only over whether to lend their troops to the Peñalosa front.

Former presidential candidate, Antanas Mockus walked out on his old gang at the end of 2011 when the then Bogotá Mayoral candidate, Peñalosa received the backing of Ex President Alvaro Uribe in his ill-fated campaign.

But worse was to follow when the Greens, under the stewardship of Lucho Garzón, then opted to join forces with President Santos in the National Unity Coalition Government, alienating further the Mockus wing who had campaigned against Santos in the 2010 presidential elections.

So what the Greens will do now is anyone´s guess.

Will they leave the coalition? Will they support Peñalosa? Will they disappear as a party?

Perhaps it is largely irrelevant as Peñalosa appears to be making a punt for the Casa de Nariño with or without the electoral clout (which is in any case rather limited) of his party.

Are parties irrelevant in Colombian politics? 

It´s most unfortunate for a politician to announce his campaign before being sure of his colleagues´support. But for there to be four such politicians in the same boat is careless indeed.

Political parties in Colombia risk becoming an irrelevance in an increasingly personalized system.

The parties are subordinating themselves to the whims of their would-be leaders.

Take for example Martha Lucía Ramírez. She is pitching to be the Conservatives´ candidate, but she is really after the support of Alvaro Uribe – and the same is true of Lafaurie, and perhaps even Peñalosa. The support of the Conservatives would be nice, it would secure her more votes, but politically, policy wise is it relevant? Is she, does she believe she is bigger than her party?

Ok, you might argue there is nothing wrong the idea of a coalition of interests or parties. Fair enough, but in this case no word has been mentioned of the politics themselves, no platforms are forthcoming. The candidates are engaged in nothing more edifying than a beauty parade.

And the parties themselves? Like judges on a talent show, perhaps.

Maybe their strategy is to wait until it becomes clear who is most likely to win and then swing behind them in the hope of gaining positions in a future government – even if that person does not represent the true “values” of the party…

Rather worryingly the Conservatives are not even sure whether they will run their own candidate – despite having a couple to choose from if they were minded to do so.

There are those within the grouping that suggest they should stick with the Santos campaign to ensure they continue enjoying the trappings of power…though the Conservatives in reality share little in common with the politics of the president.

Any different with the Uribistas?

Yes, within Uribe´s Centro Democratico movement, we know there WILL be a candidate who receives Uribe´s backing.  We also know that there are a at least three who have a chance of emerging with the CD seal of approval. Francisco, “Pacho” Santos, Vice-President in Uribe´s government and cousin of President Juan Manuel Santos leads the way, but there is plenty of time for this to change.

Uribe could have his pick of Peñalosa, Ramírez and Lafaurie too.

Plenty of leg showing, but very little trouser?

Too many candidates spoil both the broth and the appetite for politics. The public cannot help but to pinch their noses at the alphabet soup of options.

Lack of political organization and party control means Colombians will be excused if they switch off from next year´s elections in record numbers.

The debate, discourse and democracy would be much better served by two or three candidates each with political proposals and party backing. Oh for a two party state?

10% of Colombian Congress “impeached”

COLOMBIA-CONGRESO HORMIGAS

Colombia´s Congress returns later this month to the shocking news that 10 per cent of members have been forced to give up their seat in the legislature, either for corruption, criminal wrong-doing, or inappropriate conduct.

Of the 200 plus elected to the 2010-2014 congress, a scandalous 22 have been kicked out of office, and we have a year to go before elections take place to replace them.

Famous names include the highly controversial Piedad Cordoba who was banned for “collaborating” with the FARC, Ivan Moreno, brother of corrupt Bogotá Mayor Samuel Moreno who stands accused of illegally pocketing millions for dodgy contracts, and Piedad Zucardi for alleged links to Colombia´s right wing paramilitary groups.

Other more bizarre cases include Senator Merlano who was last year famously caught drink driving, and appeared (in a video recorded by the police) attempting to threaten officers to let him go on account of the size of his electorate… Yes, seriously, “do, you know who I am?”, Merlano was effecting shown to be saying.

Incredibly, among those on the black list include a former Senate President, Javier Cáceres, and a senator with one of the highest number of votes won in the 2010 election (almost 140,000), Dilian Francisca Toro.

Virtually no political party has been left untouched by the litany of offences, the U Party has ten deposed congressmen, the Liberals 5, the Conservatives 4, PIN 2, and the Polo Democrats 1.

It´s little surprise then that according to a Gallop poll, two thirds of Colombians view the congress negatively, a figure that is trending upwards. Not even during the parapolitics outrage of the last parliament, when the influence of the paramilitaries on the capitolio was laid bare, has the congress enjoyed so little public support.

Colombians appear to have grown tired of their politicians who in far too great a number have been shown to be inept, corrupt or criminal.

Congress must act to halt the decline in confidence Colombians have in their institutions. New recruits must be attracted to the legislature and politicians must be more closely scrutinised by the media, and the public. The history of Latin America´s politics tells us that caudillos and dangerous populists spring up when discontent is rife.

They´re coming for your vote. Quick, hibernate while you can

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If a week´s a long time in politics, then the 12 months of 2013 will feel like an eternity.

There is little doubt that this will be a pivotal period for Colombian politics and for Colombian society as peace talks conclude and pre-election fever grows.

But as much as the coming months have the potential to bring real change, they will also be a time of excruciating déjà vu. From now on we should expect campaign pledges, slogans, and brutal attacks on broken promises to be parroted with nauseating regularity.

I suspect you might already be bored of the president v ex-president phony war, the steady drum beat of which began within months of the Santos administration´s inauguration.

Well, prepare for the real ennui to set in. It has been all but confirmed (as this goes to print) that Uribe will head up a list of candidates for the senate, and that Uribismo, will fight to return to the Capitolio. The warring tribes have gathered.

So, if you thought the Santos Uribe fight had already polarized the nation, the best/worst is not yet upon us.

In a sign of things to come, rumours suggest that the president will bring forward a political reform bill when congress returns in March. The sole purpose of this reform as La Silla Vacia puts it to “put a break on Uribe´s aspirations (for power in 2014)”.

Unfortunately for Uribe this is an asymmetric war. He has very little bureaucratic armoury at his disposal to defend against the Santos´ incursions; he will have to rely on his hyperactive Twitter account to do much of the attack work.

Away from Uribe and Santos, the steady attrition of government ministers will continue as key figures like Bogotá´s own Germán Vargas Lleras (housing minister), Gina Parody (Santos´ top adviser for the capital), and David Luna (vice-minister in the labour department) resign to fight for senate seats.

Colombia´s constitution ensures the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature (at least on paper) by preventing ministers from “politicking” or campaigning while in office (or within a year of being so). As a result, those wishing to seek parliamentary spots must get out of government in good time.

With each new resignation, speculation will grow about new alliances, mergers, and party separations. Colombia´s institutionally weak political parties means there are plenty who will jump sinking ships.

The truth is this lack of serious party organization means voters are often left with little idea as to either what their politicians stand for, or for which grouping they are running. Farcical? Perhaps a little.

New presidential candidates will also emerge.

On the right, we already know that former Defence Minister, Marta Lucía Ramírez is keen to represent the Conservatives – possibly in alliance with Uribe´s Centro Democratico movement.

On the left, former Bogotá caretaker mayor, Clara López will stand for the Polo Democratic Alternative, but it is unclear whether an alliance can be forged with (unlikely) or against (marginally more likely) Navarro Wolff´s centre-left block (Pedimos la Palabra)?

And as the peace talks draw – hopefully – to a positive conclusion, how will the demobilized FARC be incorporated in the political set up, will they join Piedad Córdoba´s Marcha Patriotica, will there be FARC endorsed candidates for the congress?

The endless speculation, the moves around the chess board are sometimes enthralling for political commentators, but for the public it´s usually an entirely unedifying spectacle. All this speaks to total voter turn off by the time of the elections next year.

Part of the problem with Colombia´s democracy is that the politicians themselves often fail to communicate or – even worse – even to establish a policy platform from which to do battle for votes.

The idea of a detailed election manifesto so common in more participative democracies appears almost alien here. Instead, we´re reduced to a game of policy vacuumed personality politics.

The result is that during election and pre-election cycles in particular, the media concentrates on the superficial, the flotsam and jetsam, as King Lear sniffed, “who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out”.

If this telenovela politics is not your thing, 2013 should be a year of hibernation because try as you might, you will not be able to ignore or switch it off.

This article first appeared in The City Paper.

Colombia needs its Alvaro Uribes

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This article was written for Colombia Reports.

Colombia’s ex-president Alvaro Uribe just days ago brought together a group of his top supporters and political leaders to plan his assault on the ballot box in 2014.

Uribe has a fiercely loyal political base and he hopes to return to the Capitolio heading up a list of senators which will challenge the power of — the most likely re-elected — President Santos.

Estimates range from between 12 to 30 the number of possible senators that Uribe could win next year; however you look at it, a substantial and healthy opposition to the governing coalition.

Since Santos came to power in 2010 he has enjoyed a congress almost unanimously in his favor. His national unity grouping faces virtually zero opposition and scrutiny save from the left-wingers of the Polo Democratic Alternative.

So even if you don´t share Uribe´s politics is difficult to argue that his presence in the senate is anything other than good news for democracy. Laws would have the potential to be opposed where currently they´re not always even read, while debates would be likely to be heard, replacing today´s dull chorus of consent.

It is, frankly a source of some considerable relief that the 2014-2018 parliament will look and feel different to the hugely unpopular current crop.

There is another reason why Uribe´s return should be welcomed. Uribismo is a force that has significant popular support but that is largely unrepresented in government.

I have reported before on the betrayal the Uribistas feel at the hands of Juan Manuel Santos, the ex-president´s anointed successor who, once elected, once he had benefited from Uribe´s votes, decided to change tack and ditch many of his former boss´ policies.

As a result of Santos´ volte face, Uribismo finds itself with no voice except in the lonely opposition of the media – in fact many of its loyal columnists have too been shunted out of the major publications. In short, Uribismo has millions of votes but almost no elected representatives. Even the party that bears the ex-president’s name – the U Party – has deserted him to run to the side of Santos.

This is not a recipe for a healthy political system. Lest we forget that Colombia´s left-wing guerrillas often cite the barriers to representation as the reason for their decision to take up arms against the state.

Pluralism in politics is good, unanimity tyrannous.

This is the first time Colombia faces the prospect of a fiercely contested presidential re-election campaign – Uribe´s 2006 battle hardly counts. And the democratic immaturity shows.

The media talk of the polarization of the country (on account of the differences in views expressed by Santos and Uribe) as though politics would be much better is everyone got on and thought the same. What rot! If politics is not about the battle for ideas then it not politics.

The politicians themselves appear like headless chickens, unable to decide whether to stick with their current boss or to join forces with their old political master.

All the while the public are left bemused by a collection of elected functionaries that have yet to present a political platform, or any policies for consideration beyond being either a “Santista” a “Uribista”, or none of the above.

Part of the problem for Santos is the fact he has never had to win an election before – 2010 was his first campaign and he won that on the back of Uribe´s votes.

There is a palpable sense from certain members of the Santos camp that all opposition must be shut down, that it poses an inherent threat to the cozy order to which they´ve become accustomed. For those who have followed Colombian politics closely for years it strikes us as odd that Uribe is now unquestionable a political underdog.

For this author Santos has been a decent president, but perhaps real opposition will force him to be an even better one in his second mandate. Politicians nearly always perform better when scrutiny is greater.

Uribe remains a controversial figure – there are those that love him and those that cannot abide the sight of him. It´s an undeniable truth, however, that he is Colombia´s most important politician out of a job.

In the same way that Colombia needs its Gustavo Petros, its Clara Lopez and Jorge Enrique Robledos, it also needs its Alvaro Uribes.