Election loss leaves Santos ‘precarious’ but not defeated: Expert

Posted on Mar 11 2014 - 9:13am by Rico
Alvaro Uribe (L) and Juan Manuel Santos (R)  (Photo: EFE)

Sunday’s congressional elections left Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos’ legislative coalition of National Unity in a more precarious position as his supporting parties managed to retain a majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Sunday’s results that saw overwhelming electoral support for former President Alvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center Party (Centro Democratico – CD), have presented an enormous challenge for President Santos as he vies to retain control over a majority governing coalition. The National Unity coalition is made up of his own U Party (Partido de la U – U), the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal-LP), Radical Change party (Cambio Radical-CR), and the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador-PC).

MORE: Santos coalition takes beating in Colombia’s congressional election

With momentum spurred on by Uribe’s image, the CD received 14.29% of the total electoral votes in the Senate, while the Santos-led U party just managed to come out on top with 15.58% of the vote.

MORE: Santos coalition not worried after collective congressional hit

Democratic Center will not “control decisions made by the government”

“The Democratic Center will become an opposition force to the government, but not one that will control the decisions made by the government.”

Although the gain by Uribe’s conservative CD party deals a blow to the governing status quo that has allowed President Santos to ease through his increasingly liberal agenda for the last four years, it still falls short of denying his administration control over both legislative bodies.

According to political theory Professor Arleison Arcos Rivas of the National University in Medellin, the focus on CD’s potential to upset the balance of power within the legislative branch is disproportional, as the governing coalition will still retain the majority of seats.

Arcos explained to Colombia Reports that the practical reality of the elected congressional make up still gives Santos the leading vote, saying that “It’s obvious that the Democratic Center will become an opposition force to the government, but not one that will control the decisions made by the government,” Arcos said.

“What is true is that it [the CD] constitutes a bloc that will make the president’s governability more difficult,” he said.

Santos Retains Majority Despite Rise of Democratic Center

In 2010, Santos’ governing majority held 53 seats out of 102 in the Senate and 99 out of a possible 166 in the House of Representatives.  With the advent of the CD party gain in the 2014 elections, those numbers have dropped to 47 in the Senate and 92 for the House of Representatives.

Of the governing National Unity coalition, the U Party and the Conservative Party, lost seven and three seats, respectively — with the Liberal party retaining its position and the Radical Change gaining one. The House of Representatives saw the U lose 10, the Conservatives 11 with gains of 2 seats for the Liberals and one for Radical Change.

MORE: Colombia’s 2014 congressional election results

“In the house of representatives the U Party holds the majority […] but in the Senate the government will be more limited, much more precarious, because the elected candidates entering through the Democratic Center will follow whatever Uribe says,” Arcos explained.

Although the results of the election show that the National Unity still retains a clear majority, the balance of power has, in essence, swayed to the right giving the Conservative party — which holds closer ties with Uribe — the power of the swing vote. The conservatives are now in a better position to exert their increased influence on Santos’ coalition.

According to Professor Arcos, if the CD manages to influence the power of the Conservative party, “That would strangle the hold that the Government of President Santos has […] but at the moment it is premature to say what the Conservative party will do.”

“The left has been completely demised, and terribly fractioned … and that begs the question of ‘where is the left in politics in Colombia?’”

“Where is the left in politics in Colombia?”

While the election saw the right and center-right parties retain the majority of power within Colombia’s Congress, the parties promoting a left-wing agenda all fell well short.

“The question that emerges from this result is that with the entrenchment of the right-wing political agenda in the political system, where are the other parties that are expressing themselves politically?” Arcos rhetorically asked.

Both the outspoken left-wing parties of the Democratic Pole (Polo Democratico Alternativo – PDA) and the Patriotic Union (Union Patriotica – UP) trailed far behind with only a handful of seats to their name after the results came in.

The PDA, lead by presidential candidate Clara Lopez, secured five seats in the Senate and three in the House of Representatives, while Aida Avella’s Democratic Union party gained no seats in the party’s historic return to politics.

“The left has been completely demised, and terribly fractioned […] the Democratic Pole’s seats have left it in a truly sorry state, and that begs the question of where is the left in politics in Colombia?” Professor Arcos added.

The elections have left an air of uncertainty, but not of defeat, for the incumbent president as he looks at a second term in the upcoming presidential elections. He will face strong resistance from Uribe and his supporters on a number of fronts – including a possible peace agreement with the FARC, the country’s largest rebel group, that could end Colombia’s 50 year old armed conflict.


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