Colombia´s Ex-President Álvaro Uribe Vélez is expected within weeks to announce his candidature for the Senate elections 2014 setting up a certain return to front line politics in opposition to his former Defence Minister, President Juan Manuel Santos.
Uribe is said to be compiling a list of candidates, ready to campaign from as early as January. A poll by Cifras y Conceptos showed that, were Uribe to head up this group, 55% of urban voters would turn out in support of him. Uribe´s support is traditionally even higher in rural Colombia.
The ex-president´s popularity is not restricted to the electorate, however, and he enjoys loyal support from many within the Congress.
Over the coming months we will see a battle for hearts and minds as Uribe seeks to wrest politicians from Santos´ National Unity Coalition government.
Former Conservative Presidential hopeful , Noemí Sanin has already signalled that “a good part of the Conservative Party” will join the Uribe ranks, and noise grows within the U Party about possible defections.
U Party Senators Juan Carlos Vélez Uribe, and Carlos Enrique Soto are dead certs to join Uribe, but Santos is working to prevent further departures, using the powers of presidential patronage to temp waverers to stay with him.
Last month at the general assembly of the U Party, (which supported Uribe when in government and is also the party of President Santos), Uribe lobbied hard to suck support away from the government and encourage sympathizers to join his troops.
Santos defiantly stood his ground, however, and the U Party hierarchy backed him to the hilt.
Despite officially still belonging to the U, Uribe´s relationship with the party is now unclear. Earlier this year a new political movement Puro Centro Democratico was launched as the vehicle to support a return of Uribismo to the Capitolio, but it is not certain that Uribe´s senate list will go under this name.
There are some, like Juan Carlos Vélez who suggest the U Party could support the Uribe campaign. For the time being this idea appears far-fetched unless the president were to jump ship (to join the Liberals – something difficult to countenance this side of an election, of course).
So, although U Party activists remain, in significant numbers, more aligned to Uribe than to Santos, the parliamentary party is with the president.
Assuming Uribe does announce his candidature in the new year, rumours suggest the list of candidates could mark a generational shift in Colombian politics. Uribe wants to shake up the political establishment by taking with him to Congress a series of young and ambitious politicians, like Paloma Valencia, the analyst and broadcaster.
Uribe, who cast himself as something of an outsider to the closed ranks of Colombia´s political oligarchy to win the 2002 election, is said to be keen to repeat this phenomenon, hoping to change the make-up of the legislature.
It is difficult to predict the number of seats Uribe would win – the Cifras y Conceptos poll asked voters whether they would vote for Uribe, but they did not ask whether they would vote for him against a candidate or b candidate and so the exercise was to an extent academic.
Nevertheless, evidence is plentiful that Uribe remains extremely popular within certain sections of society – particularly rural voters and those in Colombia´s “estratos” one and two.
Following the elections in 2014, it is entirely possible, therefore, that Uribe´s movement – under whatever name it goes by at the time – could emerge with the largest number of senators.
This would pose a major problem for a re-elected President Santos. His second term legislative changes would face difficult – and sometimes impossible – passages through Congress.
Given Uribe´s fierce opposition to the peace talks – and to what could form the detail of an eventual negotiated agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government – Santos will have more than one eye on the Congress´ timetable, knowing that unless he is able to force through any legislative changes as part of the outcome of the negotiations before this parliament is over, life will be excruciatingly difficult thereafter.
Some say Uribe will also try to recapture the presidency in 2014 through the proxy of an uber-loyal candidate.
This has truth, but Uribe knows that if Santos is to run for re-election – itself almost an inevitability – it will be extremely difficult to defeat him (with or without a successful outcome to the peace talks).
Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the current Uribista pre-candidate has a low profile and has an almost impossible route to the Presidential Palace at the Casa de Nariño.
Uribe may well opt to pitch for a more hard hitting candidate or he may opt to keep his powder dry this time, choose to get elected to the Senate and use that as a base for an Uribismo tilt at the presidency 2018-2022. Either way, it´s an unavoidable fact that Uribe still helps define Colombian politics.
There is just one complication that threatens to bog Uribismo down.
Should Uribe become a senator he will lose his presidential immunity, and with that perhaps an inevitable slew of lawsuits awaits…
This article first appeared on Colombia Reports.
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.