Indifference Wins In France; A Same but Different Election in Colombia

Vive La Indifference!
French voters, 52 percent of them anyway, went to the polls in a first round of regional elections. Indifference was the biggest winner. The abstention rate for the ballot is a record low for a French regional election. Beyond that, the election saw a drubbing of President Nicolas Sarkozy's right of centre UMP (Union for a Popular Movement). Not surprising given that unemployment is at a 10-year-high and the rampant cronyism that pervades the Sarkozy Administration.

Results released by the French Interior Ministry with about 80 percent of the votes counted showed the Socialists and their allies, who already control 20 of the 22 regions of mainland France, winning about 29 percent of the vote. Mr. Sarkozy’s Union for a Popular Movement had 26 percent to 27 percent. The French Green party and a likely ally of the Socialists, Europe Ecologie, did very well pulling in 11.6 percent, while the right-wing party of Jean Marie Le Pen National Front (FN) scored an impressive comeback with 11.7 percent of the vote after being written off for dead. Indeed, the FN nearly tripled its voting percentage over its 2007 results helped by the low turnout. Another minor party, the Democratic Movement, was trailing badly with 4.3 percent of the vote, behind the far-left Trotskyite party.

The election was for 1,880 seats on regional governments in mainland France and in overseas regions from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. It will have little bearing on President's Sarkozy ability to govern as it does not affect the National Assembly. Still for the French President, this was a stinging rebuke bound to be compounded in next week's second round round-offs.

Same But Different Results in Colombia's Congressional Elections
Colombians too went to the polls on Sunday to elect a new Congress and to select two Presidential candidates in a primary. The contest was seen an indicator of electoral strength in advance of the Andean country's Presidential elections scheduled for May 30th.

Some 14 million, out of 28 million registered Colombians, turned out to vote in an election that was peaceful but marred by allegations of vote buying and other intimidation in rural districts in the Caribbean littoral savannah and in Amazonia. By Colombian Congressional election standards, that's a high voter turnout. Normally, it's around 40 percent for Congressional elections and near 60 percent for presidential ones.

Parties tied to outgoing President Alvaro Uribe did very well winning a large plurality in both houses of Congress. The official Uribe party, el Partido Social de la Unidad Social - known simply as La U - won 27 Senate seats down from 31 but overall the Uribe coalition won 60 Senate seats up from 50 in the outgoing Senate. The Colombian Senate has 102 members who are elected nationally in a list voting. The biggest winner of the night was the Conservative Party whose political fortunes are seemingly on the rise after failing to even nominate a presidential candidate in the 2006 elections. They held their 23 Senate seats.

The other party that is informally part of the Uribe coalition that did well is the Partido de Integración Nacional (PIN) which won 8 percent of the vote and 8 Senate seats despite that 67 of its members are under investigation for links to para-militarism and narco-politics. This is a party that is controlled by regional caciques in rural areas particularly in the country's northern Caribbean littoral savannah and a party that is inherently corrupt. Their performance is indicative of how far the country still has yet to travel in its efforts to turn the corner on its past and points yet again that the fundamental problem in Colombian politics remains the influence of those tied to in one way or another to drug trafficking. It is deeply troubling and embarrassing to me personally that the fourth largest political force in my native Colombia is built upon such a nexus of evil.

A New Hope Emerges
The Colombian Green Party, el Partido Verde, formed last October did very well winning 5 percent of the vote nationally and sweeping in Bogotá, the country's capital and largest city. The Green Party won at least four Senate seats, perhaps 5 when all is said and done, in its first electoral contest and is now poised to become a player in Colombian politics. The party also held a primary to decide its presidential nominee choosing between three former progressive mayors of Bogotá. The winner with about 55 percent of the vote was Antanas Mockus, the academic turned politician. He is expected to name Lucho Garzón, the most leftist of the three tenors as the former mayors are called, as his running mate.

The Greens ran very unusual campaign. They did not campaign individually but as a group. At every rally, each of the three men appeared to demonstrate that the campaign was one of ideas and not personalities. The Greens did especially well in the urban areas and very poorly in rural ones. The Green party had hoped that for a million votes but easily exceed their target garnering over 1.5 million votes.

The Also Rans
For the Colombian Liberal Party, the elections are a mixed bag. Once the majority party, they won just 18 percent of the vote but remain the largest opposition party. Their share of the vote has been decimated by defections not just to the Uribist factions (Alvaro Uribe hails from the Liberal party) but also other dissidents such as Germán Vargas Lleras' Cambio Radical party which won 8 percent of the vote that translates into 9 Senate seats and seems poised to make a serious run in the upcoming Presidential elections. Vargas Lleras, the grandson of a much beloved former President, leads an independent movement that supports Uribe's security policies but not his economic ones. His choice for Vice President was Elsa Noguera, a 37 year old economist from Barranquilla who is also handicapped.

The hard left faltered. The Polo Democrático Alternativo (PDA), a group that counts many former guerrillas, saw its share of the vote fall to just 10 percent, down from 22 percent just four years. The head of the party, Jaime Dussán, resigned this morning in the wake of the defeat. The other big loser of the night was Sergio Fajardo, the former mayor of Medellín, who has been mounting an independent civic campaign for the presidency. His lists failed to win 2 percent of the vote, embarrassingly coming behind the Colombian evangelical party MIRA which won 2.5% percent. Neither Fajardo nor the MIRA made the threshold for a Senate seat.

Late Night Drama: The Conservative Primary
The five person Conservative primary was a two person race between Noemí Sanín, a former Foreign Minister and a long-standing politician of note, and Andrés Felipe Arias, a former Minister of Agriculture who at 38 has positioned himself as the most loyal of Uribe's henchmen. Known as "Uribito" - or little Uribe, Arias has promised to meticulously follow Uribe's policies if elected and perhaps even have Uribe serve in the Cabinet.

The contest between Sanín and Arias for the Conservative nomination remains as of this hour undecided. At one point last night just three votes separated the two. Arias, incidentally, was unable to vote due to a registration mishap. For most of the night, Arias led though the vote difference was no more than three thousand at any one point despite over 3 million ballots casted in this primary. By early morning, Sanín had pulled ahead by some 5,000 votes with 93 percent of electoral tables reporting.

A Ballot Disaster
At last count, ten percent of all ballots have been declared invalid. Not surprising, I found the ballot extremely confusing and spoiled one of the three so much that I had to ask for another one. The paper ballot was different from the ones we have long used in the country which clearly differentiate the various party lists. Instead this ballot lacked the usual marks of distinction as well as the customary photographs of the candidates and grouped three separate elections onto one ballot. Colombia reserves seats for members of ethnic minorities such as indigenous groups and Afro-Colombians and traditionally these are elected apart by members of those constituencies. In this election, the Colombian Electoral Registry used one ballot for all three elections causing undue confusion. Ten percent of ballots cast aside is simply unacceptable and taints the election.


Tags: World Elections, France, Colombia (all tags)


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