The Green Surge Continues in Colombia
by Charles Lemos, Tue Apr 27, 2010 at 12:16:05 AM EDT
The caption reads "Life is Sacred." It purports to show Antanas Mockus standing in the way of Juan Manuel Santos and his bellicose agenda.
Antanas Mockus Opens Up His First Lead
New polling out from the firm Napoleón Franco today in Colombia's presidential contest puts the Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus now comfortably leading his rival Juan Manuel Santos, the candidate of the pro-Uribe Partido de la Unión Nacional better known as the Party of the U. The former progressive mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus now commands a nine point lead, 38 percent to 29 percent in the first round. Polls last week showed the race a dead heat but with Mockus surging. Just six weeks ago, Santos stood at near 40 percent and Mockus under 10 percent.
Colombia's electoral system requires a candidate to win 50 percent plus one in a first round to claim victory. If no candidate garners that, then the top two contenders would face off in a second round run-off on June 20th. The Napoleón Franco firm found that in a second round Mockus and the Greens would carry the day over Santos by a 50 percent to 44 percent margin.
The Napoleón Franco poll confirms the vibe that is electrifying Colombia and its politics shaking the system to its core. The energy and the zeal is definitively with the Greens while the Urbistas are increasingly discouraged. The Greens have several rallying cries but among the more popular - and one that is increasingly accurate - is ¡Se vive, se siente, Mockus Presidente! or "one lives it, one feels it, Mockus Presidente." A Green Fever is raging in Colombia with citizen flash mob rallies being organized spontaneously on Facebook all over the country and now across the world.
The poll found the Conservative candidate, Noemí Sanín, a former Foreign Minister who had hoped to become Colombia's first woman president, floundering. She polled at 11 percent down one percent from last week's poll. The other candidates including the far left former M-19 guerrilla leader Gustavo Petro of the Polo Alertnativo Democrático and the social democrat Rafael Pardo of the once dominant Liberal party failing to gain any traction at 5 percent or less. A center-right candidate Germán Vargas Lleras, a former Liberal who formed his own party called Cambio Radical, is also faring poorly with just 3 percent. Three percent expressed that they would cast blank ballots (a legal option in Colombia) and seven percent said that they have yet to make a definitive decision.
The Facebook Campaign
One of the most noteworthy features of the Mockus campaign is its use of Facebook. The entire campaign is essentially being run through the social media site. The Antanas Mockus page has simply become election central where people come to gather, exchange information and organize events. At the peak of the day, there is a new posting every few seconds. On the front page of the "wall" during the day, the oldest posting is usually normally no more than 2 minutes old to give you an idea of the velocity by which comments are being added. The Partido Verde page has also grown by leaps and bounds and now has over 360,000 followers (it had under 35,000 members when I joined on March 13th).
The numbers are surreal. The Antanas Mokcus Facebook page has been the fasting growing on the site for any politician over the past month (incidentally Nick Clegg of Britain's Liberal Democrats has seen his Facebook followers grow by over 1,000 percent this past week but Clegg has only some 40,000 followers). Mockus is gaining 13 new followers a minute and now has over 450,000 followers. Juan Manuel Santos has 72,000 followers but even that isn't good enough for second place. The leftist Gustavo Petro has just over 100,000 followers.
Colombia has the third largest Facebook community in Latin America and 14th largest in the world with 8.9 million Colombians using the social networking site. Mockus has thus captured 5 percent of all Colombians using Facebook.
While there are many reasons why the Mockus campaign has caught fire from having a coherent, consistent message on the sanctity of life to Uribe fatigue, but without the technological platform that allows like-minded individuals to connect with such facility, I tend to doubt that the Mockus campaign could have galvanized support as quickly as it has. Two months ago, the pundits had declared that uribismo was what Colombia wanted going forward and that Juan Manuel Santos was a foregone conclusion. Though still far from a certainty, it is increasingly probable that come May 30th, Colombia will elect a progressive green as its president. And that's something that's likely to shake up the political establishments across the globe because I think the lesson emanating out of Colombia is that politics as usual is no match for people-powered politics. When people realize that they are not alone and that others share their views, magical things can happen.