Elections to Congress, the great paradox | International

Workers prepare the voting tables in Bogotá, this Friday.
Workers prepare the voting tables in Bogotá, this Friday.Carlos Ortega (EFE)

The Congress of the Republic needs renewal, and almost the entire country agrees on that. That performance has been full of scandals, bad decisions, and very few results. Not to mention that great majority kneeling before an Executive marked by its well-earned unpopularity and discredit. A recent Invamer survey highlights that the Congress of the Republic has been losing credibility since the Government of Juan Manuel Santos until today it has an 85% negative image.

Undoubtedly, this reality must be framed in a broader context: that of the deterioration of the country’s institutionality when this was one of its strengths. No one is spared, from the legislative bodies to the control entities; and among them, the National Registry of Civil Status vital for the elections and largely responsible for their management in the country. Not only few today believe in its transparency, but the majority is convinced that electoral fraud is imminent.

Given the change of government in August, the paradox is that while a new Congress is demanded that does fulfill the crucial role that is required, the reality seems to indicate that these legislative elections have more shadows than lights. The National Registry informs that there are 2,835 candidates for Congress, 934 to occupy 108 seats in the Senate and 1,901 for 172 seats in the House of Representatives. Among the senators, 100 will be elected by national constituency, two by indigenous constituencies, five from the Comunes party (former FARC) and the candidate defeated in the second round of the presidential election. In Chamber 161 there will be territorial constituencies —Bogotá and 32 departments—, two Afro-Colombians, one indigenous, one Colombian abroad, one Raizal, five from the Comunes party and the vice-presidential formula of the defeated candidate.

To be objective, let’s start with the positive aspects of the Congress that will be elected on March 13. Without a doubt, it will be characterized by its ethnic plurality that reflects the reality of Colombia. In this race for both the Senate and the Chamber, a very significant number of women should be highlighted, 39.6% of the total number of candidates; an increase of 6% compared to the 2018 elections. But perhaps the most novel thing is that as a result of the 2016 Peace Agreement, 16 Special Districts for Peace were created that involve the participation of 16 representatives of the victims of the armed conflict from the territories most affected by this internal war.

But behind the above there is a very negative side. The large number of candidates questioned is undeniable: either with criminal and disciplinary investigations, or heirs to electoral assets of convicted persons, or associated with parapolitical scandals, or involved with cartels, or part of corruption episodes such as Odebrecht, or for links with armed groups. According to the Pares Foundation, there are 108 in that group, that is, 3.8%. The other mess is that given the evidence of massive vote buying, including political groups with a presidential candidate, Alex Char, the indifference of many voters grows. It is known that there are at least 33 clans with vote buying companies that support 53% of the candidates questioned.

More painful still are the serious problems facing the election of peace seats. Faced with candidacies not precisely of victims, such as that of a son of a recognized paramilitary and victimizer, the Government has been indifferent, and with it, has stopped the true victims from having a voice in Congress. “A failure of Colombian democracy” is like the newspaper The viewer He qualifies that President Duque has not given them the state financing to which they are entitled by law and that his Government has not guaranteed their security so that they can campaign. How then can they compete with the son of ‘Jorge 40’, who does have guaranteed funding to be elected? All this has led to the resignation due to lack of guarantees of at least 10 of these candidates.

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But there is still more. Although there are candidates who represent renewal and who can fight for Colombians, they have faced the invisibility of their names and proposals due to the coincidence of their election with the presidential consultations that will define who will represent the parties in the great contest. The debates have been focused on the so-called coalitions —Centro Esperanza, Equipo por Colombia and the Historic Pact— full of pre-candidates and the other five already candidates who have captured public attention. The foregoing can easily translate into the undesirable: that old, already well-known, and bad Congress of the Republic be re-elected because very few candidates with a good profile have had the space for the country to know them and vote for them.

This paradox that this country faces on March 13 is one of the greatest challenges of Colombian society. The election of a new Head of State who responds to the clamor of a country that wants peace, growth, equity, transparency, and democracy can be stopped in its tracks because there is no government that can change a nation if it does not have the support of the majority of Congress . The future of Colombia is worrying, but since this is the country of a thousand paradoxes, hope is in our young people.

The Colombian economist, former senator and former minister Cecilia López Montaño is currently the president of the CiSoe Foundation

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