Polls open at start of ‘most important congressional election in 50 years’

Posted on Mar 9 2014 - 11:43am by Rico
(Photo: El Universal)

Voting stations opened at 8AM local time in Colombia as more than 32 million head to the polls for the country’s congressional election on Sunday.

A total of 32,263,578 voters — 17,043,963 are women and 15,751,999 are men, according to the National Registrar’s Office – are registered to vote in 10,433 polling stations throughout the country.

Approximately 2,300 aspiring candidates will be vying for 102 Senate and 166 House of Representatives seats in the elections. Colombia’s delegation to the Andean Parliament, a regional integration body, will also be decided.

The election is considered pivotal, as the incoming Congress will likely have direct and far-sweeping input on any deal to emerge from ongoing peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC, the country’s oldest rebel group. A peace deal would touch on such central issues as agrarian reform, drug policy and the political rights of opposition groups.

MORE: Colombia holding ‘most important congressional elections in past 50 years’

Voting opened at 8AM and will close at 4PM, with results expected to be reported prior to 8PM local time. Armed security details and independent electoral observers are already stationed throughout the country.

Crucial elections

The popular vote comes at a crucial time for the South American country of nearly 48 million people.

“This election is different, it is distinctive, it is the most important congressional election in the last fifty years in our country,” said Liberal Party (Partido Liberal-LP) Senator Juan Manuel Galan, who is seeking re-election.

The stakes in the elections are high as president Juan Manuel Santos risks losing his power over the legislative branch if he fails to maintain his majority coalition in congress.

MOREWhat’s at stake for Santos in Colombia’s elections: Losing control over Congress

Former President Alvaro Uribe faces risking his reputation as he runs for a spot in the Senate with the strong support of his newly created political party, the Democratic Center (Centro Democratico-CD) — current polls predict him to win.

Pending reforms

Meanwhile on the to-do list for the congress-elect will no doubt include legislation reforming Colombia’s justice system, a project that has been attempted time and time again only to continue to fail amidst scandal for nearly half a decade.

MOREColombia needs justice reform: Santos

Following widespread protests, strikes, and demonstrations in 2013, Colombians will be looking for health care reform from their representatives soon as more citizens are left without health care coverage.

MOREColombia health reform: The big issues

There is also the real possibility of amending or radically changing the 22 year old constitution to change presidential and other elected official term limits.

MORESantos calls for longer political terms and no reelections

Legislation necessary in the event of a peace deal with the FARC

  • Agrarian reform
  • Demobilization accord with FARC
  • Drug use / trafficking
  • Political reform in favor of opposition politics
  • Victims compensation

Possible peace deal with FARC

And perhaps the most important issue that will face the new 102 senators and 166 representatives in the house, will be how to deal with an eventual peace accord with Colombia’s oldest living guerrilla group, the FARC, with whom the government has been in an armed conflict for 50 years now.

The government and the FARC have been negotiating now for almost a year and a half now in Havana, Cuba, and the two delegations have already come to two agreements on agrarian reform and political participation, out of the total six agenda items to be discussed.

While congress approved a referendum to ratify an eventual final peace deal, there will still likely be many questions in the legislature ahead as to what any complete agreement would look like in practice.

MOREColombia’s Congress approves referendum to seal eventual peace deal with FARC

Congressional division

This will ultimately fuel the Santos-Uribe presidential feud, as without a strong coalition in congress, the pro-peace dialogues Santos will face many challenges especially as anti-peace dialogues Uribista party grows in power and influence.

The representatives-elect of the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador-PC) might end up becoming the most valuable swing votes of sorts as both the president and former president will fight for their support.

Finally there is a possibility that voters will come out and reject all candidates and decide to vote blank on the ballots, hoping to force the reigning political class out of government.

MOREThe blank vote explained: Colombia’s biggest electoral gamble

Polling stations are expected to stay open until 4PM local time. According to the National Registry’s Office, the agency responsible of ballot counting, said to expect to have the almost final election results by 8PM local time.


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