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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 14:19 GMT
Analysis: New order in Colombia's politics
The political establishment that has governed Colombia for almost 200 years - the interchange of power between the Liberal and Conservative parties - looks set to end.
He withdrew from the race, leaving the Conservatives with no-one running for the top job.
"I abstain from registering my candidacy as a contribution to the unity of the [Conservative] party and its future," said Mr Restrepo during a press conference, adding that his running for president "is not accompanied nor supported by all of the party".
He was preceded by the head of the Conservative Party, Carlos Holguin, who resigned after the results of Sunday's congressional elections were published.
His party was decimated, and among the battered survivors who made it in, it was clear than many were not going to support Mr Restrepo.
But it was almost irrelevant how many politicians of the Conservative Party supported Mr Restrepo, as it is clear the Colombian people did not.
In the last poll conducted, the Conservative candidate only enjoyed the backing of 1% of those surveyed.
Yet in 1998, Andres Pastrana, a Conservative scion, was elected to the presidency, and it seemed the party was back to the days of his father Misael, the Conservative president from 1970-74.
But Pastrana junior has not enjoyed any popularity since election and after the first year in office seldom moved above 25% approval ratings, often falling below that.
His policy of sweeping concessions to the guerrillas in the search for peace soon backfired as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) snatched up the generously offered titbits, bit the president's hand then demanded more.
In Sunday's congressional elections the Conservatives fared badly, securing only 26 senators out of a total of 102, and 41 of the 163 members of the House of Representatives.
Rise of independents
The independents swept the board in those elections, polling almost without exception, the highest votes in the different regions of the country and nationwide.
And the main beneficiary of this, and man that six Conservative senators have said they will support, is Alvaro Uribe Velez.
A dissident from the Liberal Party, the 49-year-old hard-liner is more conservative than the Conservatives.
And with tough talk and promises of strong action against the Marxist rebels he has cut a swathe through the Byzantine, backroom Colombian political world.
He has established his own party, one of the dozens of independent groups that have sprung up in recent years, called Colombia Always.
Colombians have little reason to be grateful to the traditional parties, and many simply want to see the back of them.
The parties have governed since independence from Spain in 1810, and fought several bloody civil wars for the spoils of power.
The last ended in 1958 when the Liberals and Conservatives set up the National Front in which they agreed to rotate power between them every four years, excluding other political parties and so giving birth to the insurgency and the current civil conflict that has raged for four decades.
The National Front was ended in 1974 after Pastrana senior's administration, but by then it was too late.
Two Marxist rebel groups were firmly established and the traditional parties were gorged on unchallenged power and corrupted by it.
In more recent history there have been a series of corruption scandals, topped by the allegation that Liberal President Ernesto Samper took $8m for campaign funds from the Cali drug cartel.
He was acquitted by the partisan Congress, but stripped of his American visa by the US.
All this has led to the perception that traditional parties only look after themselves and the rich political elite, whilst more than half the population lives below the poverty line.
So not only has one of the traditional parties imploded and the other been mauled at the polls, but it seems that little can stop an independent for the first time gaining the Colombian presidency.
And if the polls are to be believed, placing Mr Uribe Velez with 60% support, he will win in the first round, which would be another historic first.
The old order is ending, and Colombia's political future is up for grabs.
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