mockus1

Don`t believe the hype or the Santos friendly media; 2014 is an election where anything could happen.

Polls show just 25% of the nation wants Santos to be re-elected. And 50% – yes 50%! – of Colombians can`t decide who to vote for or will spoil their ballot in protest at the poverty of choice.

Odd then that the media go with “Santos; the candidate with the best image” and “Santos; ahead by miles”.

An independent journalist might suggest Santos is as popular as Lady Thatcher in an English mining town. To propose he is already on course to win by a landslide is, well, tosh isn`t it.

I know I bang on about how the media is conveniently cosy with the government (not just this one, but who ever the government of the time is). But for me the media should always be the fourth branch of power, a force holding politicians to account not brown nosing.

You think I`m exaggerating about the relationship between the media and Santos? Tune your dial to Hora 20 on Caracol Radio, or BluRadio`s morning programme and you`ll hear that even journos themselves accept the argument.

So, let`s ignore those who say it`s all a foregone conclusion.

Let`s look at the reality.

Santos is ahead of his rivals? Yes. In fact, add the percentage points of the other candidates together and Santos is still above them.

Santos has the support of the parliament? Yes. He has built a coalition of over 90% of congress and now has the U Party, the Liberals and Cambio Radical officially supporting his candidature. Even some Conservatives will unofficially support him despite having their own candidate. Weird? You bet.

Santos has the media on side? Ave María, of course.

So, yes he`s on course to win. There is no one at the moment that looks ready to take him on. On the right, Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, former president Alvaro Uribe`s choice, has sunk without trace, now on 8%, while the affable Clara Lopez on the left struggles to get above 5%.

Conservatives`Marta Lucia Ramirez has only just got going – she has been a candidate for less than a fortnight, and Enrique Peñalosa, a possible for the Greens, won`t formalize his candidature until March.

Santos is the clear favourite? Absolutely.

But…if 50% of the electorate is up for grabs and two thirds are against the president`s re-election, well it`s not as clear cut as the experts would like us to believe.

Think back to the “Green Wave” of Antanas Mockus in 2010. Mockus almost over night surged into what looked like an unassailable lead in the polls. His message of education reform and a crack-down on corruption had Santos pegged back, languishing even.

Mockus bottled it though in a series of painful interviews and debates and Santos – with the help of Uribe and campaign strategist JJ Rendon – went on to win with a record number of votes.

Remember too that in 2002 Alvaro Uribe burst onto the scene, coming from a very lowly position in the polls to win in the first round (which meant he won over 50% of the vote).

To my mind it doesn`t take that much imagination to see something similar this time round. Dissatisfaction with the old style of politics is at record levels, Santos is desperately unpopular in parts of the country, and let`s face it, he`s not the best communicator or campaigner.

A candidate with a clear message representing something slighty different could wipe the floor with him.

I`ve lamented before that there is no such candidate. Well, how about Enrique Peñalosa? He`s not even a candidate yet but registers 10% in some polls. He is well known, has a proven track record of good governance when mayor of Bogota. Ok, so he`s from the capital and is rich, but he`s a little outside of, a little different to the political class so loathed by Colombians.

Peñalosa`s advantage is that he is neither a loony lefty nor a reactionary right-winger. His is an ability to shift between the left and the right depending on the issue. As a consequence he attracts support from across the spectrum – just the sort of thing that becomes incredibly useful in the second round run off.

So if Santos fails to win 50% of the vote and he has to go to a run off with the second placed candidate, say Peñalosa the final result is anyone`s guess.

Santos would have his 25% guaranteed, but Peñalosa might just attract more of the 50% of the electorate up for grabs.

The ABS candidate, “Anyone but Santos” is a powerful ticket.

Am I getting ahead of myself? Of course. And does it have to be Peñalosa? No.

The point is that despite what the editors of some national papers seem to want us to believe. With 50% of the electorate in play, the game is very much afoot.

Picture, Mockus` 2010 “Green Wave”.

Kevin Howlett

Kevin is a political consultant and lobbyist who cut his teeth working in the UK Parliament. He is a regular panelist on Colombian television, a political communication strategist and a university lecturer. Kevin is the founder and editor of Colombia Politics.

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