Calculated politicking by Colombia’s incumbent president Juan Manuel Santos is causing crises within the parties of his opponents Enrique Peñalosa and Marta Lucia Ramirez.
The most striking example of ongoing internal division was seen in the Conservative Party on Wednesday when the party president formally requested the country’s electoral authority CNE to remove his party’s own elected presidential candidate, arguing that Ramirez is failing to represent the interests of the party.
The Conservatives’ ancient powerhouse divided
The party is divided in two camps; Those who support Santos to whose coalition the Conservatives belong or those who seek a more critical approach to Santos’ relatively liberal policies and rhetoric.
Candidate Ramirez, a former defense minister, is a strong supporter of the hard-line approach of her former superior, ex-President Alvaro Uribe, who over the years has become Santos’ primary critic on the conservative side of the political spectrum. Ramirez told Colombia Reports that if she were to be elected president she would only continue ongoing peace talks with rebel group FARC if conditions imposed on the rebels are tightened.
However, her party president, Efrain Cepeda, is faced with the reality that his party is part of Santos’ governing coalition and — unlike Ramirez and Uribe — supports ongoing peace talks with rebel group FARC.
Additionally, some members of the Conservative party seem to have lost hope in the ability of both Ramirez and Uribe’s candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga to be legitimate contenders in the presidential race. The conservative candidate has consistently been last in the opinion polls while Zuluaga appears to be losing to candidates with a more moderate or even leftist opinion.
For members of the Conservative party who support the peace talks, Ramirez’s has removed herself too much from her party which in Congress is part of the governing coalition carrying the responsibility of the talks.
Conservatives leaders such as Cepeda went as far as to request Colombia’s electoral authority to void the election of Ramirez as the Conservative candidate because they said many of her policies are out of touch with the Conservative base, causing the “limbo” in the party.
Colombia’s Conservative party is over 160 years old and has played a key role in Colombian politics throughout its existence, unlike Green Alliance of opponent Peñalosa whose foundation is less than a year old.
Green glue not yet sticky
The Green Alliance was formed in 2013 after a fusion of the leftist Progressives and the centrist Green Party. Supporters elected Peñalosa presidential candidate during primaries held alongside congressional elections in March earlier this year.
However, the party was publicly embarrassed last week when two of the party’s most powerful moguls, House Representative Alfonso Prado and founder Luis Eduardo Garzon, appeared at a Green Alliance rally with Santos, holding hands victoriously while voicing their support for the president’s reelection.
“You cannot imagine how excited I am in this moment, and what this adhesion means, this backing I am receiving from you,” Santos told cheering members of the Green Alliance.
Garzon and Prado stated that their intent to support Santos instead of Peñalosa was based on the president’s clear intent to further the peace talks in Cuba if he is re-elected. The Green Alliance candidate is said to also want to continue the talks, but after renegotiating the controversial conditions under which the talks take place.
This public display of opposition to the party’s elected presidential candidate caused outrage in other parts of the party and caused other members to request disciplinary measures and even warned of a removal from Congress.
The Green Alliance’s ethics committee was asked to investigate whether Garzon and Prado could be disciplined for their perceived betrayal. Colombian congressional members are forbidden from participating in two political parties at the same time. The party is allowed to forbid Prado to vote.
Insistent renegades, however, are allowed to switch parties and this move would not only contribute to the Green Alliance’s fragmentation but would bolster support in Santos’ supporting parties.
Peñalosa’s independent approach to Santos has proven fruitful in the polls. The moderate opponent has increased his chances of meeting the president in a second round, one pollster last week even claimed Peñalosa would win in this round.
2010 All Over Again
Santos imposed a similar divide-and-conquer strategy in the 2010 elections to unsettle the then-opposition Liberal Party and draw support from its division. The president is a former member of the party and close to its mostly Bogota-based leadership.
This strategy effectively consumed support for then-Liberal candidate Rafael Pardo and resulted in a landslide win for Santos.
To compensate the party’s defeat in the election, liberals were granted top positions in the administration. Pardo was recently appointed Mayor of Bogota after a controversial dismissal of the capital city’s socialist mayor, Gustabo Petro.
In the most recent poll conducted by “Cifras y Conceptos,” a Colombian polling group, Peñalosa saw a 4% increase to 13% of the total vote while Santos once again saw a drop at the poll, this time 8% to 23% of the total. Some polls even predict that Peñalosa would win in a second, run-off election should no candidate achieve greater than 50% of the total vote, a scenario which seems increasingly likely.
- ¿Divide y vencerás? el dilema de apoyar a Santos o a los candidatos de sus partidos (El Espectador)
- La campaña de la paz se viste de verde (Juan Manuel Santos campaign website)
- Alfonso Prada perdería el derecho al voto en el Congreso (Semana)
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