Colombia: Controversial vote leaves little change

March 15, 2018
Voters complained about ballots running out and not being able to vote in secret during elections in Colombia on March 11.

Amid several controversies in the voting process, Colombians went to the polls on March 11 to elect 166 legislators to the House of Representatives and 102 senators.

The elections were meant to be ground-breaking for the left. The former left-wing guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, now known as the Revolutionary Alternative Force of the Common) made its debut after signing peace accords and transforming from guerrilla army to political party. Left-of-centre candidates are also polling high for the presidential elections set for May 27.

Yet the results gave a majority of seats to right-wing parties.

With 16.59%, the centre Liberals maintained the highest number of representatives in the lower house with 35 seats. It lost three seats in the Senate, finishing with 12.4% and 14 senators.

The hard-right Democratic Centre (CD) of former president Alvaro Uribe raised its vote to 16.05% and 32 seats in the House, as well as 16.42% and 19 spots in the Senate, including Uribe himself. This result makes the Uribe-led party, which has led opposition to the peace accords, the largest in the upper house.

The centre-right Radical Change party also performed well with 14.39% and 32 representatives in the House, and 14.04% and 16 senators. 

New left-wing coalitions, such as the Decent Colombia coalition, gained seats, but remain minorities in both houses.

Although the FARC failed to win more than 0.5% of the vote in either house, it will have five senators and five deputies in Congress as per the agreements in the peace accords.

Gustavo Petro

On March 11, Gustavo Petro, the former mayor of the capital city, Bogota, was also officially elected as the presidential candidate of the Decent Colombia coalition. He won more than 2.8 million votes in the coalition’s internal primaries for the upcoming presidential race.

Petro said that despite the fact that right-wing parties performed better in the legislative elections, his newly formed coalition has a good chance of winning the presidential vote.

During the primaries, Decent Colombia received more votes than the right-wing coalition, Awake, in eight departments of the Colombian Caribbean. The leftist parties also performed better on the Pacific coast, while both coalitions were virtually tied in Bogota.

But Ivan Duque, the right-wing candidate supported by Uribe, got more than 4 million votes in the Awake primaries.

The most recent polls predict a virtual tie between Petro and Duque, with both sitting at about 23%. If no candidate wins more 50% in the first round, Petro and Duque are the most likely to face off in a second round on June 17.

With Petro’s Decent Colombia winning only 1.7% of the vote in the House and 3.4% in the Senate, a left-wing president would have a hard time dealing with a right-leaning congress.


The electoral process has been criticised due to many irregularities, including the running out of ballots as well as videos of alleged vote buying.

The Electoral Observer Mission (OEM), which had warned of the risk of fraud in hundreds of municipalities in the run-up to the elections, reported inconsistencies as videos surfaced on social media appearing to show vote-buying and other fraudulent activities.

“Unauthorised information desks” had been set up in front of polling stations in various towns “with lists of voters and transportation ready to receive them”, the OEM said. 

The OEM also highlighted the lack of accreditation: at least 141 towns registered more voters than inhabitants, especially in the provinces of Antioquia, Boyaca and Santander. 

In addition, 30% of voters surveyed by the mission said they could not cast their ballots in secret. 

The National Civil Registry said ballots had run out in Medellin, Cucuta and Manizales, but voters could use photocopies.

Petro said on the day that electoral authorities had failed to organise the process with transparency, complaining about the shortage of cards for registered voters.

“We already knew that the office of registration was not capable of transparency in the elections,” he told reporters after casting his vote in the south of Bogota.

“The jury in polling offices have systematically denied left-wing voters the registration card.”

Petro noted that the lack of transparency affected left-wing and right-wing coalition candidates alike: “It seems that both [primaries] are being affected, not just mine, from the various complaints I’ve heard from members of the Democratic Centre.”

Petro later tweeted: “The E14 forms that report the results in the consultation will not be digitised online as required by law. 

“I denounced it before and now it becomes reality. Colombia is in fraud mode.”

[Compiled from TeleSUR English.]

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