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Colombian Elections – Antanas Mockus Gaining Ground

Image by ojovisor (found on Flickr.com)

Antanas Mockus

At the end of my post Sweet Sour Colombian Democracy from March 23rd I mentioned that Noemí Sanín, the Conservative Party presidential candidate, can “count on a solid popular support and will certainly challenge Santos in May’s elections”. Well, the situation has now changed significantly in the last few days. Since Antanas Mockus, the Green Party’s presidential candidate and a very popular former mayor of Bogotá, joined forces with Sergio Fajardo, his candidacy is gaining ground and has overtaken Sanín, according to the latest polls. Fajardo, a former mayor of Colombia’s second largest city Medellín, was presidential candidate himself, but now agreed to join Mockus as his candidate for vice-presidency after the polls gave him little hope for success. While the “independent ticket” Mockus/Fajardo is very popular in their respective cities, they are rather “unknown” outside of these. If they make it to the second round, mobilizing support outside Bogotá and Medellín will be their major challenge. They can count on considerable support from young people and students, but they need to mobilize also other strata of the population in order to be a serious presidential contender.

Andrés Felipe Arias, the Conservative Party presidential pre-candidate tightly defeated by Sanín in the party’s primaries, recently criticized Mockus by saying that the FARC cannot be fought with mimes, alluding to Mockus’ singular technique of using mimes to control traffic circulation and create a sense of shame among those who committed infractions while he was mayor of Bogotá. Mockus, who is known for his eccentric and unconventional means of “educating” the people, countered that he was lauded by Uribe in 2003 for his achievements with regards to the city’s security situation. In fact, both Mockus’ and Fajardo’s achievements during their respective terms as mayors are considerable. But Bogotá and Medellín alone are not Colombia. There are concerns on a national level which will play an important role in the people’s process of deciding who to vote for. I believe that the main factors will be the positions of the candidates regarding the continuation of Uribe’s democratic security policy, potential negotiations and/or hostage/prisoner exchange with the FARC, and Hugo Chávez and other “21st century socialists”. Juan Manuel Santos and, to a lesser extent, Noemí Sanín could be considered the “natural successors” of Uribe if the aim is to continue along the same lines of the approaches to these factors so far. But it also needs to be considered that the situation today is different from the one 8 years ago. Then, the major concern was the insecurity and the lack of rule of law and state presence in the country’s territory. Uribe has addressed these issues with success—the kidnapping and homicide rates have gone down dramatically since 2002 when he took power. Also, the state’s security forces are now present in all municipalities of the country. These achievements are there, and it is important to maintain them. Not least because of the newly gained sense of security, the economy has profited from growing domestic and foreign direct investments, ultimately contributing to the reduction of poverty and unemployment. But there’s also “new” areas of concern which emerge, such as corruption and impunity. Mockus, with his proposal of building upon them and to move from “democratic security” towards “democratic legality”, could actually hit the nail on the head. Security has largely been established by empowering and professionalizing the state’s security forces–now people feel that it’s time to empower the justice structure in Colombia in order to eradicate impunity and to combat corruption. Whether Mockus’ ideas and discourse are convincing enough to seriously challenge Santos remains to be seen. But it definitely brings a new dynamic into the election campaign.

Image: © ojovisor (found on Flickr.com)

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