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Colombia: And the biggest losers are…the pollsters (and Antanas Mockus)

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By Javier Farje, LAB editor

Until a week before the presidential elections in Colombia, most opinion polls suggested that Juan Manuel Santos, (pictured), Alvaro Uribe’s heir apparent, and Antanas Mockus, the Green Party candidate and the former mayor of Bogotá, were running neck to neck, with Mockus possibly ahead. One of them even suggested that Mockus might achieve an outright victory in the first round. And even the most cautious predicted that Mockus would win a run off. Now, it is the Green Party candidate who has a mountain to climb. Santos got 46% of the votes while Mockus got 21%.

The Spanish daily El Pais says that “forecasts got blown to pieces, the pollsters do not know where to hide, and yesterday the campaign teams started their engines again to face the final vote, on 20 June. This time, there won’t be hiccoughs. With a 25-point advantage, Santos already has a foot inside the Nariño Palace [the presidential residence].”

El Pais says that the Santos won in 31 of the 32 departments (states). The official candidate obtained landslide victories in regions where the FARC rebels have been most active, mainly in Meta, Caquetá, Magdalena, Guaviare and Huila.

The Colombian Diario Nacional believes that pollsters got it so wrong that their future is in peril. “After the result of the presidential election, some pollsters have lost so much credibility that they could disappear”, says Diario Nacional.

The paper is very critical of the role pollsters play in electoral processes, saying that the media should not pay attention to them, and the daily El Tiempo informs that the electoral commission may regulate their activities.

Alliances

After the shock, the two parties that in the past dominated Colombia’s political system – the Conservative and the Liberal – have started to discuss the conditions under which they will give their votes to Santos. Their presidential candidates polled together 10% of the votes.

El Tiempo says that the Liberal MPs have started to circulate the draft of a letter, addressed to the leaders of the party, where they ask them to endorse Juan Manuel Santos’s candidacy.

In the Conservative camp, El Tiempo reports that they are meeting to discuss an “institutional formula” to endorse Santos. Indeed, Santos can count with Conservative votes. And 85% of Liberal MPs have decided to support Santos, according to El Tiempo.

While both Liberals and Conservatives are trying to find ways to support Uribe’s heir without loosing their own political identity, at the same time they are assessing their own electoral debacle.

The daily El Nuevo Siglo says that a group of MPs are discussing a proposal for a change in the Conservative national directorate, the leadership of the party. The Conservatives had the charismatic Noemi Sanin, a former Ambassador in London, as their presidential candidate. But only the Liberal candidate, Rafael Pardo, did worse in the election.

“A group of members of congress believes it is time for a change in the national leadership of the party”, said Deputy Heriberto Sanabria to Nuevo Siglo.

In an interview with Caracol Radio, Sanin accused the leader of her party, Andrés Felipe Arias, of campaigning against her, calling him “a hypocrite”; she believes that Arias is responsible for her defeat.

There seems, however, little doubt who they want to support in the 20 of June run-off. Sanabria believes, according to Nuevo Siglo, that most conservatives at heart voted for Santos, if not for his party. However, some MPs want to impose certain conditions for their support to Santos, mainly the “rescue of the Colombian countryside (and) a programme to fight unemployment”.

Green perseverance

In any case, despite calls inside the Green Party to pull out of a run-off that they will lose, the former mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa, an ally of Antanas Mockus (pictured), rejected the idea and said that they would participate in the second round.

In an interview with El Espectador, Peñalosa said that he hopes to get some of the Conservative and Liberal votes because “those who voted for Noemi, Vargas [the candidate of the right-wing Radical Change Party who finished third with 10% of the votes] and Pardo do not want to vote for Santos”.

Asked if the Green party should throw in the towel, Peñalosa said no because “we have a constitutional responsibility”. He believes that it is difficult to win but not impossible.

In any case, the left-of-centre Alternative Democratic Pole, whose candidate Gustavo Petro got 9% of the votes, has already announced that they will not vote for Santos. “You can tell Santos that I will not join him. My struggle is against mafias and for social justice” wrote Petro in Twitter. The Pole’s website says that the executive committee of the party has not decided if they will support Mockus in the run-off. Some members would prefer not to endorse the former mayor of Bogotá. He made it clear during the campaign that he would not negotiate with the FARC rebels unless they released their hostages, something that has alienated the most radical members of the Pole.

What seems to be clear is that, with or without opinion polls, Juan Manuel Santos is heading for victory in the run-off.