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Presidential elections in Colombia – first round

June 05, 2014

Some 32,975,158 registered electors voted at 89,391 polling stations on 25 May in Colombia to elect the President and Vicepresident for the 2014-18 term.

The elections were very well organized and took place in a normal and peaceful environment, in spite of the high level of polarization and of the negative campaigning which characterized the election campaign – which was widely acknowledged by the main international electoral observation missions (OAS, UNASUR and UNIORE), as well as by national observers.

The Registraduría Nacional del Estado Civil de Colombia (the Colombian National Civil Status Registry) excelled in the rapid delivery of results. The National Registrar of Civil Status, Dr Carlos Ariel Sánchez Torres, reported that ‘in one hour and three minutes the Registry reported on 94% of the active polling stations’ and emphasized that ‘the Registry delivered the preliminary information one hour earlier than had been proposed’ and breaking its previous record.

José Thompson, Executive Director of IIDH; José María Figueres, former President of Costa Rica and Head of the OAS Observation Mission; and Daniel Zovatto, IDEA

From left to right: José Thompson, Executive Director of IIDH; José María Figueres, former President of Costa Rica and Head of the OAS Observation Mission; and Daniel Zovatto IDEA´s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean
Photo©: Brenda Santamaria (OAS)

The Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States, chaired by former Costa Rican President José Maria Figueres, noted that the polling day was ‘the most peaceful in decades’ and emphasized the work carried out by the National Electoral Council (Registraduría Nacional del Estado Civil y and Consejo Nacional Electoral) in organizing the process. Some aspects of the process worried the Mission, among them the low voter turnout. The high level of abstention was put down to ‘negative tone of the campaign,’ as well as ‘a relative lack of political debate by all of the candidates’.

Main candidates and results

The main candidates for the Presidency of the Republic were Clara López, former Mayor of Bogotá, candidate of the Polo Democrático Alternativo party; Marta Lucía Ramírez, former Minister of Defense and candidate of the Partido Conservador; Juan Manuel Santos, current President and candidate of the Coalición Unidad Nacional; Enrique Peñalosa, former Mayor of Bogotá and candidate of the Alianza Verde party, and Oscar Iván Zuluaga, former Minister of Finance under ex-President Uribe and candidate of the Partido Centro Democrático.

Oscar Iván Zuluaga obtained 29.25% of the votes cast, followed by Juan Manuel Santos (25.69% of the votes cast), Marta Lucía Ramírez (15.52%), Clara López (15.23%), and Enrique Peñalosa (8.28%).

According to Colombian law (as amended in 1991), a second electoral round is required whenever none of the candidates receives a majority of 50% plus one of the votes cast. A second round will accordingly take place on 15 June 2014 between Zuluaga and Santos.

Since the amendment of the law, a second round has happened in Colombia on three occasions: 1994, 1998, and 2010. In the 1994 and 1998 second rounds, voter turnout increased over the first round, which is contrary to the prevailing trend in Latin America. In the second round in 1998, the results were reversed when Andrés Pastrana won the Presidency over Horacio Serpa Uribe with a margin of 3.86% (in the first round Serpa Uribe had obtained 34.4% and Pastrana 34% of the votes).

It is worth mentioning that voter turnout during the first round on 25 May this year (40.65%), was the second lowest in Colombia in the last twenty years, and one of the lowest in Latin America. The lowest recorded turnout (34%) took place during the first round of the 1994 elections.

One of the central topics of the electoral campaign was the conflict with the FARC and the current peace negotiation process. The main candidates expressed opposite visions about how to handle the conflict. On one hand, President Santos has been leading the negotiation process started during his administration, emphasizing the need to finish it satisfactorily. On the other hand, candidate Zuluaga criticized these negotiations with the FARC, and promoted a hard-line policy to put an end to the conflict. In doing so, Zuluaga followed the line promoted by former president Uribe, leader of the recently created Partido Cambio Democrático. However, in the face of the second round, Zuluaga relaxed this position to gain support from the conservative candidate Marta Lucía Ramírez, and some of the two million votes she obtained in the first round. In the pact they recently signed, they decided ‘that conversations with the FARC will continue in La Habana, without reaching any agreements that are not known to the country, with conditions and time frames that would guarantee tangible, definite and verifiable advances, with international agreement.’

Daniel Zovatto, International IDEA’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean participated in a mission to support the electoral process, in which he had the opportunity to meet with the National Registrar and the Magistrates of the National Electoral Council, as well as with former Costa Rican president José María Figueres (Chief of the OAS Observer Mission), ambassador Leila Rachid (Chief of the the UNASUR Observer Mission) and Dr. Mariano Rodríguez (Chief of the UNIORE Mission). He likewise held working meetings with representatives of the Electoral Bodies of Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru, strengthening cooperation links between IDEA and our national and regional counterparts. He also participated as a lecturer in a round table on ‘The state of democracy and of electoral integrity in Latin America’.

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