BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  World: Americas
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 14:19 GMT
Analysis: New order in Colombia's politics
Onlookers walk by a Colombian soldier on patrol surrounded by campaign posters
The main two parties faired badly in recent elections
test hello test
By Jeremy McDermott
BBC correspondent in Medellin

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.

I abstain from registering my candidacy as a contribution to the unity of the party and its future

Juan Camilo Restrepo
The first to admit it, although indirectly, was Juan Camilo Restrepo, the presidential candidate for the ruling party.

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.

Conservatives fade

But it was almost irrelevant how many politicians of the Conservative Party supported Mr Restrepo, as it is clear the Colombian people did not.

Presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe
Alvaro Uribe is tipped to become Colombia's first independent president

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.

Colombian troops on election day in Florencia, near FARC's former safe haven
Colombia's 38-year war has claimed 40,000 lives

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.

Bloody legacy

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.

New order

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.

See also:

13 Mar 02 | Americas
Key candidate pulls out in Colombia
04 Mar 02 | Americas
Colombian senator murdered
01 Mar 02 | Americas
Timeline: Colombia
02 Mar 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
Colombia's war without end
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Colombia
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories