Monday, March 12, 2018

Colombians lean to the right in Congressional elections (March 12, 2017)

Colombia's voters punished supporters of the FARC peace deal, and favored right-wing parties in congressional elections yesterday. Nonetheless, the vote was fragmented, with no one party obtaining more than 16 percent of the vote. No party won a majority in either chamber, reports Reuters.

President Juan Manuel Santos' party, the biggest in the outgoing Congress, passed to fifth place. Former President Álvaro Uribe's Centro Democrático party will be the biggest bloc in the Senate, reports the Associated Press. (El Tiempo has the complete breakdown of what the new Congress will look like.)

The fractured vote is indicative of deep polarization in Colombia for the New York Times.

Polling was more peaceful than usual, notes the BBC.

Support for the FARC even lower than predicted, though the former guerrilla group has 10 guaranteed spots in Congress as part of the peace deal reached in 2016. It's list for the Senate did not obtain more than 80,000 votes, about half what some experts predicted, reports La Silla Vacía.

Open primaries, held yesterday, indicate broad support for candidates campaigning against the peace deal. The three "no" candidates obtained about 5.5 million votes. The Centro Democrático's presidential candidate for May, Iván Duque, was the main winner, with about 4 million votes, 68 percent of the supporters of the "no," reports La Silla VacíaThe results mean he could in a second-round of presidential voting, and might win in a first round.  If no one wins an outright majority in the presidential vote in May there will be a run-off on June 17, explains the Financial Times.

Duque has promised to modify certain key parts of the peace accord, such as the ability of former FARC leaders to participate in politics, according to the AP.  Other provisions, such as incentives for coca cultivators to substitute illicit crops could also be in danger, reports the New York Times.

Of the left, former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro won yesterday's primary with 2.8 million votes, making him a top presidential contender after Duque, according to the AP. He trailed Duque by just over a million votes, a stronger showing than expected. "In this consultation, Petro managed to embody the unrest of many Colombians, who feel excluded for one reason or another, and see in Petro the banner of change," according to La Silla Vacía.

The results put pressure on the other supporters of the peace deal, such as its chief negotiator Humberto de la Calle and former Medellín mayor Sergio Fajardo, to join forces. 

At la Silla Vacía, Juanita León extols the strategic wisdom of open primaries heading towards May's election, which permitted Duque and Petro to gain media attention and momentum for their candidacies yesterday. In general, the electoral participation also improved thanks to the consultations, nearly 3 million people more participated yesterday than in the last election -- nearly double the amount of new voters.

She also looks at the FARC (lack of) votes, noting that the results indicate the former fighters don't have a broad social base for elections, and that the results disprove the Uribe allegation that the FARC would win elections with "rivers of money" poured into campaigns.

For the BBC the FARC's poor showing underlines "that no matter how much influence they used to exert over the country during the conflict, now they've laid down their weapons, their power has all but disappeared."

News Briefs
  • Cubans went to the polls yesterday to ratify two official lists of candidates for the national and provincial assemblies in the country's one party system, reports Reuters. The novelty is that the new National Assembly will soon pick a new president, the first non Castro leader of the island in nearly 60 years. First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel is expected to be chosen. President Raúl Castro will likely retain significant power at the helm of the country's Communist Party.
  • Pedro Kumamoto, a young independent politician running for Mexico's Senate, is emblematic of the country's voters' rejection of the political status quo, reports the New York Times. He is part of Wikipolítica, a leftist youth movement founded in 2013, that is fielding 16 candidates in federal and state races this year. Many, including Kumamoto, are under 30. However, the candidates themselves say the biggest challenge is convincing voters that change is possible. They must also deal with a political system that favors established political parties with funding and airtime. "While many of the independents may struggle to win their elections, Mr. Kumamoto has established himself as a rising force, at least in Jalisco. ... Now Kuma, as he is known among his peers, enjoys a kind of celebrity in Guadalajara."
  • Leftist Mexican presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised jumpy investors that he would not nationalize, expropriate or drive the country deeper into debt, reports Reuters.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump will travel to Peru next month for the Summit of the Americas, his first Latin America trip since taking office last year, reports the New York Times. He will also swing through Colombia, where he will visit President Juan Manuel Santos. The visit "may underscore tensions in the region over the administration’s policies on immigration and trade," according to the Washington Post. The Peruvian government has said that Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is not welcome, which means that's one adversary Trump wouldn't meet up with in Lima. But regional allies have called on Peru to reconsider (see last Wednesday's briefs).
  • A majority of Peruvians want President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to resign or be forced from office by Congress, according to a new Ipsos poll, reports Reuters. Congress is preparing to vote on PPK's ouster later this week. (See Friday's briefs.) On Friday PPK appealed to citizens to stop the process, which he said will make the country look foolish ahead of April's Summit of the Americas meeting in Lima, reports La Mula.
  • While PPK is in the spotlight for alleged improper payments from Odebrecht, the main opposition party, Fuerza Popular, allegedly received campaign donations from the questioned Brazilian construction giant. An Ojo Publico investigation, reported in La Mula, found that contributions from individual donors at fundraisers suspiciously match the funds a former Odebrecht exec claims to have contributed to the Fujimori family party's 2011 campaign. In fact, Fuerza Popular received up to 30 percent of its funding between 2011 and 2016 from anonymous private donors, an anomaly in the region, according to Ojo Publico's report.
  • Speaking of crop substitution, Colombia is seeking to become the world supplier of legal marijuana, reports the Washington Post.
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López has been under more extreme surveillance and could be returned to prison following the publication of an in-depth profile in the New York Times Magazine, in violation of the terms of his house arrest. But the increased repression could correlate with a broader crackdown against Voluntad Popular party members, argues author Wil S. Hylton in a subsequent New York Times Magazine piece. "In light of the crackdown on opposition figures, many people close to López suspect that the raid of his home was unconnected to my article. In fact, they wonder if the agents from Sebin learned about the story only when it appeared online in the middle of the raid, and if the article might even have complicated their plans to arrest him."
  • Poor voters in Venezuela could be very influenced by the government's monthly distribution of subsidized basic food supplies, a lifeline for many, reports Reuters.
  • Haiti's cash-strapped government has hired an international PR firm with ties to a former Hillary Clinton staffer to boost the country's image in Washington. Critics have questioned the use of scarce resources by a country that lacks funds to pay its teachers, reports McClatchy DC.
  • Sebastián Piñera assumed the Chilean presidency yesterday. He took over from Michelle Bachelet, who replaced him four years ago, reports the Associated Press. It is in fact the second time Piñera takes over from Bachelet, as he also succeeded her after her first term as president, which ended in 2010. As the New York Times put it: "For the third time in 12 years, Chile’s two towering political figures will trade the powers of the presidency." He was welcomed back in office by street demonstrations demanding education and social services reform. Piñera will likely usher in a more conservative period after Bachelet, who succeeded in passing legislation permitting abortion in limited circumstances and advocated social reform.
  • Outgoing Bachelet signed a decree creating 9 marine reserves in the waters along Chile's its 6,400km coastline, reports the BBC.
  • Efforts to speak out about gender violence and sexual abuse, embodied in the global "#MeToo" movement, must be accompanied in Mexico by penal reform to create a system that does not re-victimize women who seek redress, argues CIDE researcher Estefanía Vela Barba in a New York Times Español op-ed.
  • Diplomatic efforts between British and Argentine campaigners permitted the DNA identification of fallen Argentine soldiers from the Falklands/Malvinas war in 1982. Later this month, families will go to put names on 88 graves in Darwin cemetery, reports the Guardian.
  • The latest in the "travel to Cuba before it's too late" journalism genre: in the New York Times novelist Reif Larsen captures a potentially fleeting moment on an island where time is mixed up, and juxtaposes the alleged "sonic attacks" on U.S. diplomats with its distinctive collage of sounds.: "Never have I been to a place whose identity is so entangled in its auditory fingerprint. The guttural putt putt of eight cylinder Cadillacs built before my father was born; the ocean rising and slapping at the Malecón like a newborn babe; the dip and pull of the timbale’s bell chattering at a bar across the street, tin tin — tin tin tin; the shuffle of a man demonstrating salsa for you on the sidewalk; the swish and chop of a broom on a doorstep; the plush boom of the ceremonial cannons fired every evening from the Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabaña; the clink of ice cubes in the most delicious mojito de piña you will ever taste."

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