What the First Round of Colombia’s Presidential Elections Reveals

Sunday was one of those glorious Bogotá days when the high altitude crisp air complimented the city’s Cerros Orientales and ordinarily, everyone and their dog would be out enjoying it all on the ciclovia. Alas no, the ciclovia was suspended for the elections and drinking was ramped up due to the obligatory Ley Seca absurdity. What do the results of the first round of voting in Colombia’s presidential elections show us about the state of our nation?

Maybe President Santos got the message?

Maybe President Santos got the message?

A Ley Seca does not work. Just head to any liquor store or supermarket in the preceding hour before the law comes into effect and watch them sell out of booze. Prohibiting people from drinking only encourages them to imbibe more. Six out of every 10 Colombians eligible to vote in Sunday’s elections preferred not to do so. That’s around 60 per cent of 33 million people who stayed at home making it the lowest turnout in 20 years since 1994. That year the first round was won by Ernesto Samper with 2.623.210 votes against Andres Pastrana’s 2.604.771. One thing worth noting was that in 1994 the also rans had almost no bearing on the elections such as in 2014. Navarro Wolff pulled in a paltry 219.241 and then Regina Betancourt de Lizca some 64.131. Compare this with Marta Lucia Ramirez’ 1.995.698 and Clara Lopez’ 1.958.414 yesterday.

So, we can see that Colombians are indeed politicized. What they are displaying is what I have been harping on about for years, a profound disconnect with the political class. Just look at how well Clara Lopez did in Bogotá. There are clearly several key points that Oscar Ivan Zuluaga and Juan Manuel Santos need to address in order to win the second round on June 15.

  • Have a plan for Bogotá. The capital is screaming out to be cared for and become the “consentida” of Colombia once more. Regardless of what anyone says, Bogotá is a mess right now.
  • Do a John Major style appeal for “floating voters” from the 1990s. The candidates have to impress that it is worthwhile casting a vote. Had there been a charismatic candidate – given the possibility to campaign and express a legitimate political manifesto – he or she would have won hands down yesterday. As it was, the press was so clearly trussed up (perhaps deliberately so) with tales of scandals, wire-tapping, email hacking, payoffs and so on that no one else could get a word in edgeways.
  • Connect with the electorate. Perhaps it’s time for both the Democratic Center and the Social Party of National Unity to actually present their manifestos…perhaps more than a Frente Nacional inspired back and forth between Conservatism and Liberalism and War or Peace?
  • Don’t believe in those who say they will be casting a Voto en Blanco. Only 770.610 or 5,99 per cent of people voted en blanco. You can draw two conclusions from this. Either people didn’t really get what the voto en blanco is and how it works. Maybe the 60 per cent of the electorate who stayed at home thought that this was equal to voting en blanco? Maybe, maybe not. And secondly there’s a full on psychology to voting. You may say one thing when you’re enjoying a beer with friends, but, it’s all very different once you get to that voting table. Your instinct is to vote for the candidate you feel might win.
  • Finally, it’s all about the World Cup stoopid! Colombia play their first game on June 14 in the World Cup Finals. Their first appearance in this competition since France 1998. The cafeteros line up against Greece in Belo Horizonte. How are the authorities going to enforce a Ley Seca and how are the two candidates going to be able to be heard above the clamouring for a win, with the result of a win or with the morose behaviour and profound introspection that may come with a loss or draw? I don’t have the answers.

My World Cup Panini Sticker album

What more can we say about this first round in the presidential elections? It is very clear that Oscar Ivan Zuluaga has a far better team than President Santos. OIZ’s entourage clearly has some overseas input when it comes to managing his message, his style and presentation. Just one look at his victory speech tells you everything. It was all on message whereas JMS looked like a dad called in hastily with his family from a camping trip. He was neither prepared nor informed and he fell into the same spiel we have become accustomed to over the past four years. A word of advice to JuanMa…it’s time to try something new. The old tricks just don’t cut it.

The momentum is with OIZ, it’s very difficult to stall a downward trajectory such as that experienced by JMS. But, it’s anyone’s election to win. If we refer once again to the 1994 elections and the segunda vuelta in that year, the momentum stayed with Samper who went on to win it with 3.733.366 to Pastrana’s 3.576.781.

What new revelations await us now in the final three weeks and will they have an effect? Chuzuluaga went on to win despite everything…





About Richard

Anglo-Canadian resident in Colombia. Journalist, Writer, Hotelier, Expedition Guide
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2 Responses to What the First Round of Colombia’s Presidential Elections Reveals

  1. Lee says:

    Hi Richard,

    Its also fathers day on the 15th, so papa wont have a Club Colombia with his special meal out,
    I don't know if you have felt Bogota strangely quiet as the population comes to terms with what possibly lies ahead.

    Also, hearing people talk, everyone seems to be surprised on who was ahead or maybe there was specific barrios that he triumphed in…..

    Fingers crossed that the right person is elected and the country moves forward and does not end up in reverse.

    Take Care,


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