The recent Colombian elections for governors, mayors, plus state and city legislators were remarkable, with much good news about the state of democracy in the long troubled country. Unfortunately, there was as much gloomy news as the nation looks to 2010 presidential elections. Good, bad or neutral, these polls between the 2006 and 2010 presidential races resemble U.S. midterms, where future trends are often detected.
First, the good news, representing a stark contrast to elections in neighboring Venezuela:
Nearly 15.5 million men and women cast ballots — some 48 percent of registered voters — an increase of more than 20 percent over 2003.
Some 86,449 candidates competed for 18,527 positions with an historic low in violence (sadly, 20 candidates lost their lives, at least 15 at the hands of FARC, the ruthless communist terrorist-narcotics trafficking organization).
Overall, non-radical candidates won a significant majority of executive and legislative races.
Clearly, the elections reflected a vibrant democratic spirit throughout the country. That said, however, portents for the presidential stakes in 2010 have become even more clouded than they were pre-election.
Last year's presidential race was won overwhelmingly by incumbent President Alvaro Uribe, who received more than 62 percent of the popular vote. Tellingly, Marxist professor and former judge Carlos Gaviria of the ultra-leftist Polo Democratico party finished a distant second with 22 percent and the candidate of Colombia's long-established Liberal party placed third.
To be sure, the Liberal candidate, Horacio Serpa, was a previous two-time loser, accused of having close ties to narco-traffickers, but Polo Democratico had well-known ties to the murderous FARC guerrillas and clear ties to Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.
The election results on October 28 cause concern because the Polo Democratico candidate for mayor of Bogota, Samuel Moreno, won a resounding victory, retaining control for the party of the country's second most powerful elective position. Receiving nearly 44 percent of votes cast, while the second place candidate mustered just over 28 percent, Mr. Moreno's 900,000 votes were the most ever cast for a mayoral candidate.
Mr. Moreno's victory was a stinging setback for President Uribe, who backed the second-place finisher, former mayor Enrique Penalosa. Polo Democratico's chances for winning the presidency in 2010 are thus significantly strengthened. Should this happen, Mr. Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution will have gained its biggest prize yet: Colombia, the United States' strongest Latin American ally.