Elections in Colombia: 3 keys to understand the unprecedented scandal over accusations of fraud

There will be no general recount, but the blow to confidence in the Colombian electoral system has been severe.

Although the registrar Alex Vega confirmed Tuesday that they will not recount the votes, the denunciations of irregularities of parties of all currents they put Colombia in an unprecedented situation before the presidential elections on May 29.

The elections of March 13legislative elections taken over by the nervousness of crucial inter-party consultations to elect presidential candidates, became the first of three rounds that will decide power for the period from 2022 to 2026.

Since that Sunday politics took the lives of Colombians. And now the conversation was filled with suspicion.

Although there have always been questions from part of the electorate, during the last decades the elections in Colombia have not had great controversies in terms of the transparency and legitimacy of the voting process.

But the country has changed: for the first time in decades, the main political force in the elections is the left, with Senator Gustavo Petro as head and only favorite to be measured in the second round.

His coalition, the Historical Pactwas the most voted option both in the legislative elections and in the consultations.

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The leftist Gustavo Petro is the favorite ahead of the presidential elections on May 29 in Colombia.

His supporters find in the electoral irregularities proof that the Colombian establishment is unwilling to accept his coming to power.

On the other side, they accuse Petro of playing dirty, fomenting violence and affecting the transparency of the democratic process by not wanting a recount.

Experts had already anticipated that a recount was technically impossible and constitutionally sensible.

The Colombian electoral system has twists and turns that, however, for 50 years did not affect general confidence in the entity.

In the end, what began with accusations of fraud seems to have ended up as a mere controversy, but the political fact is already part of a campaign that presents a new dose of tension every day.

1. What happened?

The Colombian electoral system gives priority to the early publication of results.

On election day, a systematized pre-count is published by telephone from the polling stations to a counting center in Bogotá. The official and definitive count, on the other hand, is announced a few days after the elections..

Boys and girls between boxes of papers and electoral ballots in Colombia

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Both the left and the right have been suspicious of the 13M elections in Colombia.

After the March 13 elections, several civil electoral organizations and the Historical Pact denounced that in around 20,000 polling stations no votes were registered for that movement.

The scrutiny found that the complaint was true: the Historic Pact actually obtained 400,000 votes more than the 2.3 million that had been reported in the pre-count. With that, they had three more senators than the 16 that had been announced.

The explanation for the difference had to do with the ways of registering the votes in forms known as E14 and the location of the Historical Pact, disadvantaged by lottery, on the electoral ballot.


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On May 29, Colombians will vote for president in the first round.

Although discrepancies are common, and the composition of Congress is not usually exactly the same as that shown in the pre-count, the magnitude of the difference this time was greater.

Before the count, those who denounced fraud were on the left. After it, they were on the right.

After the release of the official results, the government party of former President Álvaro Uribe, the Democratic Center, was left with one senator less than the initial 14 seats that had been counted for it.

Uribe, who initially had played a secondary role in this election, was the one who led this week the request to carry out a total recount of the votes.

“Dr. Petro, win the elections, do not try to steal them or impose yourself by plotting accusations of fraud against those of us who ask for clear accounts,” said the former president.

Alvaro Uribe

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Former President Álvaro Uribe led the request to carry out a total recount of the 13M votes.

The president himself, Iván Duque, supported the recount on Tuesday “with the purpose of giving confidence to the citizenry about the transparency of the electoral process”.

And the same registrar Vega, a lawyer with a track record in electoral management but questioned for his closeness to Duque, said on Tuesday morning that a recount was in order.

Then, however, he backed down. Most parties did not support it. The controversy passed, but the precedent was set.

2. Why is it so important?

In a country traditionally governed by a traditional right-leaning class, Petro’s favoritism is itself an uncharted political development.

The candidate has historically been critical of the alleged partiality of Colombian institutions for the benefit of political, business and regional elites.

The militants of the Historical Pact even question the existence of a legitimate democracy in the country.

Therefore, this choice has a dose of special tension.

But in addition, the National Registry, a huge institution in charge of electoral management in a country with a great bureaucratic and legal tradition, has been strongly criticized in recent months for alleged irregularities.

Elections in Colombia

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Registrar Vega has been questioned about several things, including hundreds of appointments based on political militancy, failures in the ID registration systems and the election of jurors with supposed inexperience.

Vega denies underlying problems and has insisted on the guarantees of a transparent system: “On the cloak of doubts of electoral fraud, whoever does not feel guarantees, or believes that they are going to commit fraud, should not appear,” he said recently.

And regarding the controversy over the March 13 elections, Vega defended the training processes for electoral juries and said that, instead of recounting the votes, it is necessary to investigate whether the irregularities found were “human errors or fraud on the part of some jurors”.

3. What implications can it have?

The electoral experts drew attention to what a recount request means, even by the head of state, in a system that does not contemplate it.

An OAS observer with his back turned

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The OAS sent an electoral observation mission to Colombia for the 13M elections.

“The controversy opens a door to the field of unconstitutionality,” says Mónica Pachón, a political scientist at the Universidad de los Andes.

“For a president to give a recommendation to an entity that is supposed to be independent is unacceptable and for a registrar to violate the electoral law questions the trust and independence of an entity that must make decisions autonomously and must respect due process.”

Yann Basset, a political scientist at the Universidad del Rosario, adds that with what happened on March 13, “it is clear that The Colombian electoral system needs a reform that guarantees not only its independence from politics, but also clearer and more effective accountability procedures.“.

“A new electoral court, adapted to the changes and problems that have occurred in recent years, will be an issue that the new Congress must take into account,” he adds.

The last time there was a great controversy over the elections in Colombia, in 1970, the indignation of many citizens led to the formation of the M19, the guerrilla to which Petro belonged.

The raison d’être of the armed movement was that the conservative Misael Pastrana won the nationalist military Gustavo Rojas Pinilla with fraud and that, therefore, in Colombia the popular movements did not have guarantees to be part of the democratic system.

50 years have passed. Columbia has changed. But even so, this continues to be a country without experience in political disruption, in the coming to power of leaders who question the status quo.

That condition of uncharted terrain marks these elections. And, starting this week, with an addition: that both on the right and on the left there are doubts about the credibility of the electoral process.

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