Colombia debate crisis in build up to presidential elections

Posted on May 16 2014 - 10:33pm by Today News

Colombia is seeing rising frustration at the lack of a televised presidential debate with all candidates present, less than two weeks before the election.

Colombia’s 2014 elections

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Juan Manuel Santos


Oscar Ivan Zuluaga

Enrique Peñalosa


Clara Lopez


Marta Lucia Ramirez

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Election polls

Although there have been various debates held across Colombia in the lead up to 2014′s presidential elections on May 25, incumbent president, President Juan Manuel Santos has yet to make an appearance, or agree to participate in a televised debate.

According to a statement by Santos, the president has “never refused to debate any issue or any problem.”

“What happens is that these debates with five people are not really debates, statements are very short,” said Santos in the statement.

The president said he would attend all debates should the election go to a second round, according to Semana magazine.

The one televised debate for the 2014 elections took place on April 30 but without Santos present. Enrique Peñalosa, presidential candidate for the Green Aliance (Alianza Verde – AV) had until that moment been avoiding speaking at public debates but made the choice to be present.

Voicing their concerns

Frustration at the lack of a live forum to challenge the presidential candidates has caused both Colombian citizens and other presidential candidates to take to social media outlets such as twitter to voice their disdain.

In one tweet by Marta Lucia Ramirez, candidate for the Conservative Party (Partido Conservador), she calls for “No more teleprompter politics. We demand a presidential debate now.”

Clara Lopez, presidential candidate for the Democratic Pole (Polo Democratico – PD) also took to Twitter to say that it is “inconceivable that no televised presidential debate has taken place. What are they afraid of?”

A televised debate was planned by TV channels RCN and Caracol, the same electoral debate which has been held since 2006, but the lack of attendance by President Santos caused the media outlets to cancel the debate – a decision met by outrage by other candidates.

The hashtag  #DebatePresidencialYa (Presidential Debate Now) has been trending with Colombians both inside and out of the Andean country using it to express the need for a televised debate, with all candidates present, to take place.

Lessons from the 2010 elections

The lack of a forum to question those running is even more evident when contrasted with the 2010 presidential elections.

Not only did 2010 have political debates, it had many of them with news outlets using their own methods to challenge the candidates.

For example, on May 18 2010, the presidential candidates were presented live with video questions from members of the public which had been pre-recorded and posted on the website of news outlet La Silla Vacilla.

More formal debates were held by other channels such as TeleSur with topics discussed being Venezuela, the FARC, democracy and the possibility of peace talks. These issues remain topical today.

Potential scheduling of a debate

Law 966 of the Colombian constitution states that debates must take place before presidential elections.  But the same law does not oblige the debates to be televised, nor to involve all candidates or the incumbent President.

There are reports of RCN scheduling live, televised, debates for the week before the Sunday elections. The debates however have not yet been confirmed and neither has Santos’ attendance at them according to news site Confidencial Colombia.


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