Yet Again, Life Imitates “The West Wing”

Sibylla Brodzinsky at The Christian Science Monitor:

The airport security guard’s wand squealed when it passed over the pocket of presidential candidate Antanas Mockus’s trousers as he prepared to embark on a recent campaign trip.

Puzzled, Mr. Mockus reached in and pulled out a No. 2 pencil with a metallic band around the eraser.

“They discovered my weapon,” he says, recalling the incident with an impish smile. The pencil is one of the symbols of his campaign, which emphasizes education as a tool to transform society.

A few months ago, no one thought Mockus – a mathematician, philosopher, and former mayor of Colombia‘s capital, Bogotá – had much of a chance in the elections, but his unorthodox campaign style has turned Col­ombia’s race for the presidency on its head.

Rising from a distant 3 percent in opinion polls in March, Mockus has surged over 30 percent, placing him in a dead heat with former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, considered the heir to the legacy of the famously popular president, Álvaro Uribe.

The latest Ipsos-Napoleon Franco poll gives Mr. Santos 34 percent of the vote in the first round, compared with 32 percent for Mockus. But if neither candidate secures the 50 percent of the vote needed to win outright in the first round, Mockus would win a run-off with 45 percent to Santos’ 40 percent on June 20, according to the May 23 poll.

Renard Sexton:

Quite a number of observers and journalists are content in even calling Mockus the “front-runner” in the race, though the numbers point to a neck-and-neck finish in the first round of voting. If no candidate receives a majority — which at this point is the probable result — there will be a run-off second round on 20 June between the top two candidates.

Gallup’s polling from 10 days ago still puts Juan Manuel Santos on top with 37.5 percent of the vote to Antanas Mockus’ 35.4 percent. While this would give a nominal victory to Santos, he would be well short of a majority, leaving it wide open in the run-off.

Gallup polling thus far puts Mockus in command position in the event of a run-off, even as Santos pulls the most in the first round. This polling, however, does not account for politicking in the interim between first and second rounds, such as the possible alliance between Santos and fellow conservative Sanin. It could be that second round voters are already shaking out this way (Santos 19 May share in the run-off is just about the sum of Santos and Sanin in the first round), or that some Sanin voters are undecided between the two at this point. Supporters of the conservative-liberal (free market) German Vargas Lleras are more likely to split between the two major candidates.

Ipsos polling relays a slightly more detailed, and generally complementary storyline. The main difference between the data sets (both obtained from interviews with 1200 adults) is that the Gallup numbers show continued improvement for Mockus since March, whereas Ipsos indicates that Mockus peaked at the end of April, while Santos has regained ground since April, possibly from defecting Sanin voters.

The second round numbers tell a similar tale, with Mockus’ lead falling slightly since its peak at the end of last month from 13 points during the week of 26 April to 5 points when Ipsos published its last numbers on 22 May.

One major downside to the Colombian law that prevents electioneering during the final week of the campaign is that no polling numbers have been collected or published since 22 May. As a result, we do not know whether Mockus has rebounded in the run-off numbers, or if Santos has further consolidated his position at the top of the first round.

Even further, it is possible, though quite unlikely, that one candidate or another has had a major influx of undecideds or minority candidate supporters such that they will win an outright majority. Without recent enough numbers, we have to conjecture based on qualitative reports, which indicate well-consolidated support for both Santos and Mockus.

As such, we can project that neither candidate is likely to break 40 percent of the national vote, and that a Santos v. Mockus run-off on 20 June is the probable outcome. The question will be whether Santos can pull together enough of the right and center-right to win in the run-off, or if 40 to 45 percent is the ceiling for his national support, one point both Gallup and Ipsos numbers agree upon.

As the only candidate to receive 50 percent or more in any published polling of the second round (the Centro Nacional de Consultoría put his highest run-off figure at 53 percent), Antanas Mockus seems to be in a relatively strong position going into today’s voting. But the race remains wide open and we eagerly tonight’s results.

Doug J.:

It really looks like mathematician/philosopher Antanas Mock may end up as president. I may as well say up front that I am deeply suspicious of anyone who would describe himself as both a mathematician and philosopher, but he certainly sounds like a candidate we at Balloon-Juice could get behind:

As mayor of Bogotá, he made a name for himself with his wacky antics, such as dressing up in spandex tights as “Super Citizen.” But he is also recognized for his uncompromising honesty and zero tolerance for corruption.I don’t follow Colombian politics at all, so I have no idea who I would vote for if I lived there. Given how poorly my foreign friends understand American politics, I’m loath to express opinions about other countries’ politics. But the idea of using jokes and stunts to fight bullshit and lies has a deep, deep appeal to me. Of course, the clown who tells the truth is something of a literary cliché, but it’s a cliché that I like.

Steven Taylor:

The election this Sunday is the first step in replacing the sitting President, Álavro Uribe.  Uribe is one of the longest serving President in Colombian history and the first since Rafael Núñez in the late 1800s to be re-elected to the post to consecutive terms.  Núñez, a key historical figure in Colombia politics (considered, in many ways, to be the father of the 1886 constitution, which was in force until it was replaced in 1991), but who was not elected (or re-elected) via a popular vote process.   Alfonso López Pumarejo was the last president elected to two terms, although they were non-consecutive terms (1934-1938 and 1942-1946) and López did not serve to completion his second term.  The 1886 constitution forbad consecutive terms, while the 1991 constitution limited the president to only one term until Uribe’s allies were able to reform the document during his first term so as to allow one re-election.  As such, Uribe acquired a unique place in Colombian history for his tenure in office alone.

[…]

Uribe has had a vey successful run as president, and he and his policies do deserve credit for substantial gains on the policy-front.  However, not only are there a number of issues pertaining to transparency, corruption, and violence that his administration also has to answer for, it is a mistake to elevate Uribe to the position of the Indispensible Man (an idea that fueled his bid for a third term).   An example of this point of view can be found in the following WSJ headline:  The Man Who Saved Colombia.  The piece is quite positive and includes lines like “Mr. Uribe has salvaged democracy in a part of the world where criminality is on the rise”.  Such statements are a bit of hyperbole for a variety of reasons.

First, it reflects a tendency that is all too common (see, for example, here) that reduces governments to the chief executives alone, as if all that is good or bad about a given stretch of time is the president (or PM or whomever).  There have been others involved in Colombia governance for the past 8 years.

Second, such statements ignore Colombia’s rather long history with political violence.  Yes, the time during which Uribe took office was an especially bad period, although it was not the first such bad period and it likely will not be the last (or, based solely on historical patterns, that’s the sad safe money).  Casting Uribe as the savior ignores a few simply facts:  the current political violence can be seen as part of an unbroken legacy of conflict that dates back tot he 1940s (at least).  That is not to say is it a continuation of the exact same conflict, but rather that a) there has been some form of ongoing political violence since that time, and that b) some parts of the current violence can trace back its roots (the founder, recently deceased, of the FARC) back that far.  Other elements can have their origins traced to the 1960s (the FARC, the ELN and other small guerrilla groups that still operate) while others to the 1970s/1980s (drug cartels) or 1980s/1990s (paramilitary groups).

Third, there is no reason that the efficacious portions of the Uribe approach can’t be continued.  Indeed, both of the front-runners (Santos and Mockus) have pledged to do just that.

Fourth, we shouldn’t go too far in proclaiming Uribe a pure paragon of all things democratic.  He has demonstrated autocratic tendencies (not the least of which being his clear desire to alter the political system to allow him to stay in office a rather long time—something that is considered anathema to those who praise Uribe in the US when the exact same behavior is exhibited by Hugo Chávez).  Indeed, there were issues of vote manipulation that emerged in the amendment process that allowed the first re-election which led to the arrest and conviction on bribery charges of congresswoman Yidis Medina and some impropriety issue

Further, there are credible accusations that Uribe has had ties to paramilitary groups—certainly his family has, including his political ally and cousin, Mario Uribe, as well as his brother (via the AP:  Colombia’s President Uribe defends brother against death squad charge, blames criminals).

Aldo Civico at The Huffington Post:

The next president of Colombia will have to make sure not only that false positives and illegal wiretapping and alliances of politicians with illegal armed groups will not be tolerated, but that the cases will not be left with impunity. In these days in Washington different views and opinions are debated on the opportunity to grant to Colombia next August the certification on human rights. At stake is the continued financial support for the so-called consolidation strategy, the updated version of Plan Colombia, which has always met the convinced and almost uncritical support of both the republican as well as the democratic administrations.

It is not a secret that nobody in Washington supported and wanted a second reelection of president Uribe. A matter of principle, rather then a statement against Uribe, whose government has found in general wide and bipartisan support. And Washington has looked with sympathy at the present electoral process, at its healthy dynamic and plurality. And certainly the unexpected enthusiasm for Antanas Mockus, the eccentric former mayor of Bogota, has surprised also Washington that thought the victory of Uribe’s political heir, Juna Manuel Santos, was a done deal. But Washington has not bend towards either Santos or Mockus.

The attention of the United States will certainly increase in the upcoming weeks, as the second round approaches. Sure, in Washington Santos is not only well known, but in general also appreciated. The Obama administration and several members in Congress don’t blame him for the false positive. They are aware of his attempts to reform from within the Colombian military and to promote among the ranks a culture and a practice of human rights. They have been always supportive of the military strategy against the FARC and are deeply convinced about the consolidation strategy that was designed under Santos’ leadership. If Santos wins, Washington sees it as an opportunity to continue and to strengthen with him and his men a good collaboration. Santos is well known and will not represent any surprise.

Antanas Mockus is certainly less known, but the judgment of his mayoralty in Bogota and of Sergio Fajardo in Medellín is very positive in Washington. Washington knows that Mockus will be tough with the FARC and that he will not be shy in using the military when needed. To Washington, moreover, the message of a culture of legality is appealing and it might help lowering the tension that sometimes exists between the administration and Congress on issues related on human rights. This could have positive effects on the approval in 2011 of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia (stocked in Congress) and an easy approval of the human rights certification.

In any case, Washington is aware that a president will be elected who will be a friend of the United States and that Colombia will continue to be a good partner in the region. Either with Santos or Mockus, it will be a fresh start, one that is needed to refresh the political air made heavy by the scandals. The visit of Hillary Clinton to Colombia on June 9, at a very sensitive date, will possibly offer an interesting preview of the road ahead in the dealing with an important ally in the region.

Jose DeCordoba at Wall Street Journal:

Colombia’s tough former defense minister picked up a commanding lead in the country’s presidential race, but he will have to face off in a second electoral round against the eccentric former mayor of Bogota next month.

Neither former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, the candidate of popular, outgoing President Alvaro Uribe’s Party of the U nor the Green Party’s Antanas Mockus, a bearded mathematician turned former two-term mayor of Bogota, were able to get more than 50% of the vote needed to avoid a run off election. But with 99% of the vote counted, Mr. Santos seemed almost certain to win the runoff scheduled for June 20 after picking up 47% of the vote against Mr. Mockus 21%. Seven other candidates split the rest of the vote.

Colombian presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos casts his vote at a polling station in Bogota, Colombia, on Sunday.

Mr. Santos did much better than predicted by the polls which said he and Mr. Mockus were in a dead heat. The election results could open a hectic, three week period of frantic campaigning and even more frenzied political horse trading as the two men left standing from the crowded nine candidate field scramble for votes.

As the two men head for the runoff, Mr. Santos, an experienced political infighter and political horse trader is likely to have an insurmountable edge over Mr. Mockus, a philosopher and mathematician turned antipolitician who has made his personal honesty and a refusal to do business as usual one of his top campaign issues.

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