By Barbara Orozco Diaz
On March 13th, millions of Colombians went to the polls to elect a new Congress and participate in the inter-party primary process to select the country's presidential candidates. As part of the 2016 Peace Agreement between the FARC and the Colombian government, 16 congressional seats were made available for victims of the armed conflict.
This electoral cycle was centered around the implementation of the 2016 Peace Accord. It is also a referendum on the government of President Ivan Duque, who was elected in 2018 and represents the right-wing party, Centro Democrático. President Iván Duque, is widely regarded as the hand-picked successor to former right-wing President Álvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010) who continues to be the face of ultra-conservative forces in Colombia.
The last administration did little to advance the implementation of the Peace Accords and instead opted to further escalate the conflict in Colombia's rural areas and use brutal repression against peaceful protester in the country's main cities. Additionally, the country's socio-economic crisis has worsened, and by 2021 it was ranked as the 2nd most unequal country in Latin America.
Colombian society showed its dissatisfaction with the Government's policies by exercising its right to mass protest in the so-called indefinite National Strike in 2019 - 2021, which has politicized large sectors of the population that could prove to be a major factor in tipping the electoral scale this time around.
The March 13 elections delivered a crushing blow to the incumbent party, Centro Democrático, which lost 5 seats in the Senate and 16 in the House of Representatives; the results highlight that it has been the left-wing coalition Pacto Histórico that received the most votes in the House and Senate as well as the most participation in their presidential primaries with over 5.5 million votes; finally the results showed the consolidation of traditional political parties, the Liberal and Conservative parties both gained seats in the House and Senate. Despite the strong growth of the Pacto Histórico and the alternative parties, the shift to the left has not been fully realized, with the Senate remaining majority center-right.
Security in the Electoral Process
With the presidential elections slated for May 29, the electoral process in Colombia continues to lack many guarantees for a secure, transparent and equitable election.
Regarding security in the electoral process, the Ombudsman's Office published Alert AT 004, 2022, warning of extreme and high risk in 274 municipalities in the country. Among others, presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, vice-presidential candidate Francia Márquez, who would be the first Afro-Colombian woman to hold the office, and the elected senator representing indigenous communities, Aida Quilcué, winner of the 2021 National Human Rights Award, received direct death threats from the Aguilas Negras, a right-wing paramilitary death squad. Threats by the paramilitary Aguilas Negras included the entire coalition of Pacto Histórico; social leaders, grassroots organizations and even civilian populations considered to be supportive of the Pacto Histórico. In a country that has had 7 presidential candidates assassinated in the last few decades and more than 1,300 socio-political leaders assassinated since the signing of the 2016 Peace Accord, these threats must be taken seriously.
Regarding fraud, the repeal of the Electoral Guarantees Law sanctioned by President Iván Duque, opens the door to even more vote buying and the design of the E-14 voting form led to the undercounting of more than 500,000 votes for Pacto Historico. Additionally, there were innumerable obstacles for the financing of campaigns for "Peace Seats" (seats reserved for victims of the armed conflict), flaws in the ID registration system, the absence of information about how to find polling station and the impossibility for people who have been forcibly displaced (more than 73,000 people in 2021) by the armed conflict to reach the ballot box.
Many Electoral Observation Missions that have followed the process on March 13 have denounced all these irregularities and warn of even greater risk in the upcoming presidential elections. Regardless of who forms the next government, they will find Latin America's "oldest democracy" yearning for the achievement of peace, justice and socio-economic equality.