It never became a formal request before the National Electoral Council (CNE), but the recommendation of President Iván Duque and the words of the national registrar, Alexander Vega, which opened the possibility of recounting the votes of the legislative elections of last 13 March, plunged Colombia into uncertainty about the transparency of the elections. Before Duque and Vega opened the door to an unknown and unprecedented scenario in Colombian history, it was former President Álvaro Uribe – who saw his electoral flow in Congress decrease with his Democratic Center party – who said that the votes should be counted again , even when there is no legal mechanism to do so and only raising it as a possibility supposes an undermining of the country’s democracy and institutionality.
This Tuesday, in a hearing that lasted more than four hours, most of the political parties spoke out against the idea, mainly because there is no normative figure to do so and trying to do so would mean questioning the entire electoral system. Only then did the registrar back down and acknowledge that in Colombia there is no reason to speak of fraud. The legal fight is over, but the political bid continues and fuels the accusations about the role of the registrar in an election year that is just beginning. The first presidential round will be held in May and, if none of the candidates wins, a second round will be held in June, from which the Colombian president will emerge for the next four years.
“It is not reasonable or adjusted to the Colombian legal system that a general recount of the vote for the Senate be carried out because the stages provided for in the legal system have already been processed,” says the lawyer and former magistrate José Gregorio Hernández. Analysts, historians and politicians had been warning for hours that the idea of recounting the votes was not only impossible to carry out but also dangerous. “A recount would give rise to an institutional crisis because there could be candidates who are not happy with the result and ask for a recount again,” says Hernández. It could be an endless process and, since there was no history, it was not known how to carry it out. In the elections on Sunday, March 13, 17,000 jurors participated, working on 112,000 polling stations. How would they organize again for a recount? When would it be done? How would you ensure that everyone would be satisfied this time? Until this Tuesday there were no answers about the government’s proposal that put the country on its head.
“We have decided to request the general count of votes for the Senate of the Republic, in order to give transparency to the electoral process,” said the recorder on Sunday. 24 hours later she assured that there was no reason to doubt. “It is not possible to continue talking about electoral fraud in Colombia. We will continue working for a transparent and guaranteed electoral process. It’s good that the results are respected.” assured this Tuesday afternoon. President Iván Duque has not made any mention of the matter after stepping back from the registrar, but his Minister of the Interior, Daniel Palacios, assured that the only interest of the Government is that “institutions prevail and that it be the decision of the Colombian people that elect your representatives.
The controversy began with 500,000 votes. In the pre-count, released on the same election night, the leftist coalition, led by the candidate Gustavo Petro, identified that more than 400,00 votes had not been counted, which were later reflected in the official scrutiny. The warning gave rise to the right-wing talk that a fraud was being hatched and the possibility of recounting all the votes and even disregarding the electoral results began to be put on the table. “What does Mr. Petro want? That 500,000 votes appear, an overwhelming majority in his favor and there is no response. Why are you afraid of a recount? That they begin to look at how many cards were delivered to each table and check that they are not adulterated and that they had been properly accounted for?”, former President Uribe insisted until Tuesday morning, who has remained silent after, with the exception of from his party, the Democratic Centre, and the Conservative Party, all others opposed the idea of recounting the votes.
Former magistrate José Gregorio Hernández, knowledgeable about the electoral system, explained in a video why the sole proposal was clearly going against the country’s institutions. “There was an initial pre-count on Sunday night [la del 13 de marzo] and culminated with the delivery of preliminary results. Afterwards, the scrutiny was carried out with more than 5,000 judges of the Republic and some votes appeared that were lost due to human errors. Now the National Electoral Council must formalize and deliver the corresponding seats through the title contemplated by the legal system: the credentials”, said Hernández in a review of how the system works. Along the same lines, the political movements that participated in the hearing of the National Commission for Electoral Guarantees convened this Tuesday by President Duque to evaluate reopening the bags with votes and starting the count again.
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“We reject any insinuation of fraud, we do not believe that it is necessary to follow a path that can lead us to the delegitimization of our institutions and the fracture of our democratic system, we surround the institutionality of the electoral process of March 13”, said the Party spokesman Liberal, on behalf of its leader, former President César Gaviria. “It is not convenient or pertinent to carry out a general recount of the vote, it is a bad precedent”, pointed out the Mira movement. “We must act with great serenity, we must be respectful so that a democratic transition is guaranteed in Colombia. Calls from the presidency [a un reconteo] they break neutrality”, pointed out the spokesman for the Patriotic Union, which is part of the left-wing coalition Historical Pact. “There is no evidence of fraud, on that side we are calm, there were human errors, which have been corrected. At this time it is better to trust, ”said Dilian Francisca Toro, from the La U party. The position of the political parties, which refused a general recount, was key for the registrar, who has not given further explanations for his change of opinion, decided to retract.
“If you decided to do it [el reconteo] we would have acted outside of what is stipulated in Colombian legislation. It was dangerous to have opened that path that, although it could have the purpose of seeking transparency, ran the risk of ending in a real delegitimization”, says Alejandra Barrios, of the Electoral Observation Commission (MOE). Barrios acknowledges that the seriousness with which this debate was approached in Tuesday’s hearing, even in the political movements that were in favor of a recount, allowed Colombia to recognize today that the results of the elections are reliable. The challenge, says Barrios, will be what comes next. The feeling of doubt that remained after this episode can only be counteracted with what happens in the coming months. To the demand of a society that asks that each vote be counted, all the institutions will have to respond with dignity on May 29, when the polls will reopen. This time to elect the next president of Colombians.
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