A Green Tsunami Gathers Steam in Colombia
by Charles Lemos, Sat Apr 10, 2010 at 04:48:31 PM EDT
Colombia's Presidential election campaign is now well under way and with 50 days to go before the first round election day, the race is becoming a two person race between Juan Manuel Santos, the former Defense Minister under President Uribe and Antanas Mockus, the twice former progressive mayor of Bogotá who is running as the candidate of the newly formed Partido Verde, a Green party. It's been a meteoric rise for the Green party over the past month. In its primary, the party leadership had hoped to garner some 500,000 votes. Instead, 1,822,865 Colombians voted in the three person race choosing between three former mayors of Bogotá. Additionally, the Greens won 5 Senate seats in their first electoral outing.
Early polls back in March showed a wide open race though the pro-Uribe candidates were clearly in front. In mid-March, Santos polled near 40 percent with Noemí Sanín, a former Foreign Minister and the narrow winner of the Conservative party primary just above 20 percent with the rest of the seven person field in single digits. The biggest loser in the Congressional election was Sergio Fajardo, the former mayor of Medellín, who had been mounting an independent civic campaign. His lists fail to win a single seat in either the Senate or the House. Mockus immediately after the Congressional elections on March 13 polled 9 percent.
The race has dramatically altered in the last month. To begin with Mockus selected Fajardo as his running mate bringing together a wider spectrum of pro-reform forces. And with more Colombians beginning to tune in to the race, the Greens have honed their message to one based on the redemption of morality in politics. Our message is simple: every life is sacred, every peso in the public treasury is sacred. In a country where homicide is again on the rise and where numerous minor corruption scandals have occurred under Uribe, that message has resonated.
The latest poll conducted by Datexco released just yesterday shows Juan Manuel Santos still leading with 29 percent of the vote but with Mockus surging to 24 percent. Meanwhile Sanín has fallen back to 16 percent after numerous gaffes including her botching the national anthem. Even the revelation that Mockus has early stages of Parkinson's has been turned into a positive. "We'd rather have a President whose hands shake but not have his morals waver" came back the refrain. And as one noted Colombian observer noted, Mockus may have Parkinson's but it's the Uribe camp that's shaking.
This is a campaign unlike other in our history. Never before has a race been conducted in this manner. In the primary, all appearance by Antanas Mockus, Enrique Peñalosa and Lucho Garzón were joint appearances to underscore that this was a campaign of ideas, not of personalities. To show their commitment to prudent financial management of public monies, the party returned 4,500 million pesos that it was entitled to but did not spend. The message is clear, corruption will not be tolerated.
An Explosion of Social Media
On March 12th, I ended a near half century association with the Colombian Liberal party, a party my great-grandfather helped to found, and became a member of the Green party. That day I also joined the Green party's Facebook group that then boasted some 33,000 members. Today that group has over 160,000 members. To put that in perspective that's more than the rest of all other candidates combined. Santos, for example, has just under 34,000 members in his Facebook group. In addition to the main Facebook page for the Partido Verde, another 24 groups have sprung up to support the Mockus candidacy outside Colombia.
On the Colombian politics blog La Silla Vacía, opinion is running heavily pro-Mockus. In a poll conducted of the readership, 92 percent of "sillanos" have expressed a preference for Antanas Mockus. Other blogs are also springing to life. One of the more popular ones is Yo Voto por Antanas or I'm voting for Antanas (ask me why).
Here's a sampling of citizen videos being posted on YouTube. These are not official party videos but rather the creation of individuals who have been mobilized to an extent never before seen in Colombian politics energized by the Mockus candidacy and enabled by the new mediums.
The Partido Verde de Colombia also has its own YouTube channel where you can watch official party videos.
For the progressive movement in Colombia, this is our finest hour. We can feel it. We believe that we can win this sending a message that will reverberate the world over. Progressive Green parties have done well in elections the world over but never have they taken power. We believe we can do this even as we recognize the immense battle that still lies ahead.