Today in Colombia, the people are voting for their Senate and House representatives. This precedes the year’s presidential election, which will begin in May. I’ll get back to that in a couple paragraphs, but first, a little 101 information about today’s vote.
Parties. While Colombia was once under a two-party system, there are now more than 20 active political parties. 16 are represented in the Senate, while the diversity is even greater in the House.
Terms. All of congress is elected and turns over at once, serving a 4 year concurrent term.
Senate representation. While there are currently 102 sitting Senate members, this number will be raised to 107 following this election. 100 of those are selected from a single national constituency; 2 of the representatives are named via a special selection process to represent the indigenous communities; and this year FARC will have the 5 new seats (a result of the 2016 peace negotiations).
House representation. This year there will be 172 members of the House, primarily elected at a department (state) level. Each department and the capitol city has 2+ representatives. Additionally, there are a few constituencies with special representation. The indigenous community has 1 representative; the Afro-Colombian population has 2 representatives; Colombians living abroad have 1 representative; for the first time ever, in 2018 the Raizal population (read a bit more about them here) of the Archipelago of San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina will name 1 representative; and again for the first time, there will be 5 FARC representatives.
Campaigning. I began seeing ads pop up around town just after Christmas, during Carnaval. There are murals and posters all around town with candidates’ names, and voting instructions. Bumper stickers aren’t so much a thing here, but rather cars express their political opinions with large window clings in the rear windshield. While TV commercials have a much different cadence here, typically only playing once in a thirty minute period, they are heavily occupied now with political campaigns. The liberal party just advertises their entire party, rather than touting specific candidates. There are also a lot of groups out in the streets handing out flyers, a lot of group rallies in the weeks leading up to elections, and probably a lot more that I just don’t know about because as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I’m forbidden to get involved in politics.
Voting. All Colombian citizens 18+ with valid ID have the right to vote. The ballot is…a lot to take in, and requires you to go in prepared. Rather than showing candidates’ names, it just shows the party and the number that the candidates are assigned. Voters must find the political party and number of the candidate they want to vote for, and make a clear and full X over that box.
Corruption. There is a lot of buying of votes. I can’t really say much more about it, because I don’t exactly know how it goes down. I’ve heard tell that at some companies, employees are told they need to vote for X candidate, and that there are repercussions if they don’t. I’ve heard that some campaign staffers will pay 40.000 pesos for you to vote a certain way.
Ley seca. During elections, they enact ley seca – literally, dry law. For 36 hours, establishments are prohibited from selling alcohol. It was a big bummer for me that this election landed on my last weekend in Colombia, because it meant my favorite dance club in town wasn’t open on my last Saturday night.
Presidential elections. As I said at the beginning, presidential elections will take place beginning on May 27. In Colombia, the president must win by a true majority (literally, half of the valid votes +1); therefore if no true majority is found on that date, there will be a runoff vote on June 17. There are eight men and three women in the race. It will be a very interesting transitional period. One very polarizing candidate has already been under fire (literally, his caravan was attacked) during a political rally.
Updatecan be found here.: I didn’t realize that the March 11 elections also involved a presidential primary. A summary of the election results and what that may indicate for Colombia’s future