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Published On: Mon, Mar 10th, 2014

Colombia’s elections; a nation divided

elections

As Colombians went to bed former president Alvaro Uribe looked on course for a stunning victory in Colombia`s congressional elections.

When the morning coffee arrives they will digest the news that, at the last minute, President Santos` U Party piled on the votes to snatch the top spot away from Uribe.

The U Party looks to have secured 21 seats in the senate making it the largest party, with Uribe`s Centro Democratico taking 20 (or 19 when all the votes are in).

With the coalition parties, the Liberals and Cambio Radical, President Santos should be able to inch over the line to take a majority into the next four years.

But the Conservatives are set to hold the balance of power. Despite polls suggesting they would struggle to break 10%, this most traditional of electoral forces won 1.9 million votes and will take 18 (or 19 when all the votes are in) senate seats. The Conservatives are split with some supporting Uribe and others Santos. It is unknown how they will organize themselves for the next parliament, and their votes are in play.

With 98% of the votes cast, turnout is depressingly less than half, at just over 14 million.  “Blank votes” were a little over 800,000 as most of the discontented didn`t bother to vote. But the null and void votes were high, suggesting voter confusion with the fiendishly complicated ballot paper.

Voter fraud was reported across the country and sadly many of the politicians known to be the clientelist vote-buyers won through.

The good news – on paper – is that Colombia now has a congress with some teeth. There will be a government coalition and a strong opposition, whoever wins the presidential election in May.

For t0o long, Colombia`s congress has been a supine body, used as a plaything of the president. With Alvaro Uribe the likely leader of the opposition this will radically change.

Uribe is joined by other big beasts like Horacio Serpa for the Liberals and Antonio Navarro for the Green Alliance. As we predicted, Jorge Enrique Robledo topped the poll as the senator with the largest number of votes – congratulations senator!

Whipping boys of public opinion Roberto Gerlein (Conservatives) and Roy Barreras (U), were both re-elected, while Claudia Lopez (Green Alliance) the self-styled rebel with a cause stunningly won over 80,000 votes with virtually no party machinery.  She will be a star of the next parliament.

Away from the senate, the second chamber (or house of representatives) saw the U Party win the highest number of votes with, as predicted, here the Uribista Centro Democratico falling away in a far distant fifth.

In a night most can claim some form of victory, the Liberal Party is the surprise loser. Polls suggested they were on course to become the largest party across the two houses, but their vote simply didn`t turn out. The Liberals are battling it out with the U Party to be the chief backer of President Santos – and losing.

These were elections that failed to generate enthusiasm from Colombians increasingly disillusioned with their political masters. With the usual suspects winning, the nation is unlikely to wake up with joy in its heart this morning. The simple truth is that politicians are failing to connect with voters and voters are turning off.

But for all those who for months have claim to be “indignado” – hacked off with the system – just a small number took the effort to turn out and vote making it easier for the traditional parties to win.

We`ll analyse the results and what they mean for the presidential race in more detail over the coming days.

Picture, ADN