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As Colombians prepare to go to the polls in the regional and local elections on 25 October, analyst Leon Valencia has revealed candidates are investing as much as 5 million dollars to fix the outcome.

Few deny vote-buying is endemic in Colombia. Politicians stand accused of spending public money to corrupt an electoral process that authorities ultimately fail to police.

But while President Santos’ government has labelled these elections, “the most transparent in history”, Mr Valencia, director of think tank, “Peace and Reconciliation”, has warned “huge walleted” politicians are buying their way to power. 

corrupcion-electoralCorruption charges go right to the top in Colombia. Presidents, high-court judges, supreme court officials, mayors, ministers, ambassadors, police and army chiefs have all been under scrutiny in recent years.

Despite the accusations, however, most get away with their crimes.

Alejandra Barrios of MOE, the election monitors, has labelled Colombia’s central electoral commission, the CNE, an “inoperable organism”.

As well as allegedly receiving “sweeteners” from the government, the CNE failed dismally in last year’s congressional elections, labelled “the most expensive in history”. Or to put it another way, ‘the most corrupted in history’.

It is alleged that candidates spent billions of pesos of ‘mermelada’, (public funds paid to government supporting candidates) on industrial-scale vote-buying. There are very few who deny this took place. Yet despite the record-breaking levels of corruption last year, high-profile (alleged) offenders kept their jobs.

In Colombia, the state’s reaction to the mind-blowing misappropriation of tax payers’ money seems to be, ‘no pasa absolutamente nada’. The idea of vote-buying has been normalised in Colombia.

Of course millions of Colombians themselves are complicit. Those who happily sell their vote in exchange for a lunch and 30 dollars are guilty. The millions too who are content to vote for paramilitaries, for murderers, or for crooks…they must share in the blame.

Leon Valencia tells us there are 152 paramilitary-supported candidates fighting Sunday’s election. This is a country that has already elected hundreds of paramilitary financed congressmen, senators, mayors and governors. It is a country that continues to repeat the mistakes of history.

For Alejandra Barrios, blame lies with Colombia’s political parties, who inexplicably select these candidates. Whichever the colour, party directors seem lax about their vetting process, or openly field those with links to criminal organisations.

No one does anything about this. Accusations have been made against presidents, vice-presidents, interior ministers…

The public prosecutor’s office is as quiet as a mouse. CNE? Not a peep.

So it should be no surprise if, come Sunday, Cambio Radical wins in La Guajira, and therefore keeps “the Kiko Gomez mafia” in power. Gomez is a former governor, jailed and accused of homicide and paramilitary links.

Other likely winners include the Liberals’ Luis Perez in Antioquia (accused by writer Hector Abad of links to illegal groups), and Didier Tavera in Santander, a man whose “obscure sources of funding” (Semana magazine) were called into question even by his now boss, Horacio Serpa.

The list of dodgy and unsavory hopefuls this Sunday is endless. So why can’t the election officials step in and ban them, remove them from the list? Why can’t they impeach those who spend millions of dollars on races, in clear violation of the laws? Why are no sanctions placed on the political parties who enlist para-politicians?

Every time there is an election the government promises they will be transparent, democratic, open and free.

But they are not.

The rights of every Colombian who votes honestly and in good faith are being violated by a political class incapable and uninterested in the values of liberal democracy.

In private, many Colombians lament that ‘the criminals and the oligarchs always win’. You can hear them ask ‘why should we resist it?’, ‘why fight it?’.

It is difficult not to empathise. Latifundist logic prevails in the corridors of the capitolio. Colombia’s bureaucracy appears more interested in retaining and sharing the spoils of power than in the progress of the nation.

Colombians desperately need a social contract.

It is difficult currently to identify from where the Colombian state hopes to gain its authority and win its legitimacy. Colombians seem to pay in with their taxes only for certain state officials to take out.

Mr Valencia’s revelations are to extent irrelevant. No matter how egregious the crime – 3 million, 5 million, 10 million to win a governorship – no matter the cost of buying an election, Colombians, for the time being at least, are powerless to change things.

Anyone who believes corruption isn’t the biggest challenge facing the nation is naive and wrong.

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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.