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Thursday, May 25, 2006
Putting Surges in Perspective
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 10:02 am

I noted the following headline in regards to this weekend’s presidential elections in Colombia (via the AP): Leftist candidate surges in Colombia, which sounded rather interesting, given the general lack of drama in the race (as the incumbent looks poised to win re-election in the first round).

At any rate, the headline is accurate, Gaviria (the aforementioned mentioned “leftist”) is surging-into a distant second:

Colombia’s democratic left, long blemished by its association with the four-decade-old guerrilla insurgency, has been invigorated by the surprise performance of Sen. Carlos Gaviria, the candidate for the Alternative Democratic Pole party, or PDA.

Unknown to half of Colombians just a few months ago, the academic and former head of Colombia’s highest court has leapfrogged past Liberal Party candidate Horacio Serpa to move into second place. Since March, polls show that support for Gaviria has tripled to 24 percent.

That is impressive, and says a lot about the current state of the once-dominant Liberal Party (not to mention the sorry state of their current candidate, and soon to be three-time loser, Horacio Serpa). However, I am not sure that “surging” into second place for the right to lose by double-digits is quite as impressive as the headline suggests. However, it will have potential long-term significance for part formation for the PDA-and Colombia needs the development of healthy new parties.

Also, it is inaccurate to associate Gavira and the PDA (or even the democratic left in general) with the guerrillas currently fighting. Further, there have been moments of electoral success of such parties in the last 15 years. However, those successes (like AD/M-19’s in the 1990 Constituent Assembly elections) have been fleeting insofar as the ability of those groups to build long-term growth has been nil. Still, if Gaviria comes in second, it will be an historical moment in Colombian electoral history-both in terms of the number of votes won by a leftist presidential candidate, but also by the fact that it will mark the first time that the top-two vote-getters were both from parties other than the Liberals and Conservatives. A third place slot for Serpa and the PL will be especially phenomenal.

It would appear that there is some substantial evolution taking place in the Colombian party system-but there won’t be any hard evidence of exactly what type of evolution until we have back-to-back legislative elections under the current rules that just went into place.

Still, it does appear that the constitutional reform that was put into place in 1991, which did effect the electoral system, set in motion the changes we are currently seeing.

Fascinating stuff, to be sure (well, to me, at least!).

Filed under: Colombia, 2006 Presidential Elections | |Send TrackBack


  1. Re: “Fascinating stuff… (well, to me, at least!)”

    I find the posts on South American politics to be quite interesting. I don’t comment on them simply because I don’t consider myself qualified to do so - but please don’t assume that those posts go unread.

    Comment by LaurenceB — Thursday, May 25, 2006 @ 12:22 pm

  2. Thanks for the note!

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, May 25, 2006 @ 12:32 pm

  3. On the inability of past leftists and ex-guerrilla parties to cement a place in the party system, this one is different in several respects. None of these factors guarantees that the PDA will become a major force, but they give it a better chance than past leftist blocs:

    1. This is much more unified, encompassing, as far as I can tell, the entire spectrum of the left (other than those still at arms).

    2. The electoral system (for congress) is far more favorable than before (as was a major theme at F&V in March and early April).

    3. The traditional parties really are in disarray, as Steven notes.

    One caveat to the last point. It is true, and remarkable, as Steven indicates, that the two leading candidates will be neither Conservative nor Liberal. On the other hand, the Conservative Party endorsed Uribe, as have “new” parties that sprang from the Liberals after Uribe left that party.

    Comment by Matthew — Thursday, May 25, 2006 @ 3:01 pm

  4. I expect that the polls will be over-stating Gaviria’s support, as polling is done mainly in urban centers and the party’s support is almost all urban.

    Still, anything over 12.6% would break the previous record for a leftist presidential candidate in Colombia (Navarro, 1990). The all-time leftist record in Colombia (26%, if I recall correctly, for the National Constituent Assembly election in 1991) is probably not going to be broken, however.

    Comment by Matthew Shugart — Thursday, May 25, 2006 @ 3:12 pm

  5. I think that finally the rules and incentives created by them have undercut the benefits of staying in the PL and PC.

    Heck, the PC hasn’t fielded a presidential candidates under its own label since 1990 (Lloreda).

    Pastrana was a coalitional candidate endorsed by the PC in 1994 and 1998. Their candidate in 2002 dropped out before the elections and now they are endorsing Uribe in his second run. And Uribe is an independent who used to be a Liberal.

    I think the breakdown of the traditional parties and their reassembly is the logical extensions of the incentives in place and that the new rules have finally pushed the system over the edge that was constructed in 1991.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, May 25, 2006 @ 3:17 pm

  6. Yes, Steven, I agree with that assessment.

    One of the interesting things about the PDA is that it is not itself a product of the splits in the traditional parties-almost uniquely among the new parties. (This is also true of the Christian parties, I believe, though they are much smaller.)

    In fact, is any part of the PDA a Liberal or Conservative breakaway? I know some of the movements that joined it used to ally with the Liberals rather than other left parties (MOIR, for example), but I can’t name a part of the PDA that is a traditional-party offshoot.

    Comment by Matthew Shugart — Thursday, May 25, 2006 @ 4:00 pm

  7. I think you are correct. I have only done a very cursory analysis of the PDA Senate list, so can’t say for certain.

    It does appear that the PDA is something new in that regard-and hopefully it survives and thrives, as new actors are sorely needed.

    I won’t make any predictions as yet, however!

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Thursday, May 25, 2006 @ 5:07 pm

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