Sunday, 30 March 2014

Colombia's presidential election: The candidates (and their Irish 'equivalents')

When it comes to politics, we Irish are as passionate as they come. Throw in an imminent election and our interest increases even more.

Back home, the European and local council elections will occupy some people's minds over the next few weeks. However, they're just not as 'sexy' as a general election, when we select the people to run (or not run, as the case often is) the state at national level. In this regard, Colombia's upcoming presidential ballot can fill that void for now.

So in a bid to help you know better those in the running for Colombia's top job, the following is a comparison between the candidates for Ireland's last presidential election in 2011 and those now doing likewise here.

Of course, the role of an Irish president is virtually ceremonial, with our prime minister more comparable to a Colombian president in terms of duties. But for character, background and in some ways affiliation similarities, this guide should be somewhat helpful.

The incumbent, President Santos. Set for four more years?
10 more years?
Juan Manuel Santos – Michael D. Higgins
This may seem a strange match up. Higgins of the left and eventual winner of the Irish contest with the centrist/centre-right (as far left as presidents go here really) Colombian incumbent now seeking re-election.
Irish President Michael D. Higgins with wife Sabina.
Michael D; least worst.

However, in the Irish case, after a fairly
tumultuous campaign for a presidential election, voters sided with Higgins as what could be seen as a 'safest pair of hands, not as controversial' kind of mentality. In less than glowing terms about Santos, the phrase 'best of a bad bunch' is one you'll regularly hear from many Colombians.

A problem area for 'El Presidente' leading up to the May 25 poll is his decision not to intervene in the controversial dismissal of the now former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro, which could see some centre-left minded voters desert him. On the other side, the peace talks he has initiated with FARC guerillas haven't gone down too well with some centre-right leaning Colombians.*

Opinion polls suggest he should still pull through – but it's unlikely he'll get 50 percent or more of the votes to prevent a run-off election with his nearest challenger.

Colombian presidential candidate Enrique Peñalosa at 'full-throttle'.
Peñalosa: Freewheeling.
Enrique Peñalosa Londoño – Seán Gallagher
While Peñalosa has much more of a political pedigree – he was a congressman in the early 90s and mayor of Bogotá from 1998-2001 – than the entrepreneurial Gallagher, the link here comes from past associations with tainted (tainted for some that is) characters.
Seán Gallagher: Could have been king (well at least President of Ireland).
Gallagher: Toxic links.

Gallagher looked a shoo-in for the Irish presidency until accusations of dodgy financial dealings, linked with the once almighty but at the time (and still for many) pretty toxic Fianna Fáil party, dogged and eventually scuppered his campaign.

For Peñalosa, having previous ties with divisive former president and very much right-of-centre Álvaro Uribe could work against him. However, in a country such as Colombia where the left has traditionally been kept (often brutally) silent when it comes to having a say in elections, the Uribe link may not be as telling as you might think.

Indeed, that Peñalosa is running on a Green Party ticket could see him take a little bit more from the left than he might have done in another context.

Clara López: Facing an uphill battle to become not only Colombia's first woman president, but also its first leftist head of state.
López: Reawakening Colombia's left?
Clara López – David Norris & Martin McGuinness
As much as the Irish electorate might like to see itself as progressive and open-minded, the fact that David Norris is gay sat uncomfortably for many.
Senator David Norris at home in Dublin.
Norris (top) & 'missile' McGuinness.

'A nice guy, but you can't have a homosexual for president' was the general feeling, even if few admitted it publicly.

The above pretty much holds true in Colombia too, yet your prospects are probably a little worse being a leftist politician.
Martin McGuinness takes aim -- with a snowball that is.We're barely into double digits in terms of years passed since those from the democratic left were regularly, systematically even, gunned down due to their political persuasion.

Basically for those who held, and continue to hold, the purse strings and their supporters, left meant – and still means for some – guerilla, regardless of the actual truth. And being associated with guerillas while seeking high office in a country trying to put a deadly past behind it doesn't fit well with most franchised citizens – just ask Martin McGuinness.

Yes, things aren't as obviously bloody as they once were in Colombia and it's fair to say Ms. López probably never held a gun in her hand in her life.

However, 'left' is still a dirty word for much of the electorate in these parts. With that, Ms. López is in a battle she simply cannot win. Though like many in her position before, she'll put up a good fight.

Óscar Ívan Zuluaga: Old school but cool?
Zuluaga: Who?
Óscar Ívan Zuluaga – Gay Mitchell
Traditionalists with a powerful, popular party behind them. But dull and uninspiring. That pretty much sums up things here.
Gay Mitchell with many more Gay Mitchells.
Gays, lots of Gays.

Mitchell's campaign never really got off the ground; largely because he just couldn't connect with voters.

For Zuluaga, the popular joke among the Colombian press speaks volumes:
Each time he arrives home the security guards at his apartment complex ask who he is, such is his dangerously low profile.

Running for the 'Centro Democrático' (Democratic Centre) party and thus being in the shadow of the aforementioned former president Álvaro Uribe is both a hindrance and a help. It's a hindrance in that it's difficult for him to cut his own niche, be his own man. On the plus side, the Uribe link will land him plenty of votes from the multitude of right-leaning Colombians, ones he may not have got on his own standing.

For that reason, he can't be discounted as easily as Gay Mitchell was.

Marta Lucía on the campaign trail for the 2014 Colombian presidential elections.
Well, if the T-shirt fits Marta?
Dana Rosemary Scallon – scaling the heights.
Also-rans: Dana (top) & Mary Davis.
Marta Lucía Ramírez – Dana Rosemary Scallon & Mary Davis
Mary Davis: One of the also-rans in the 2011 Irish presidential election.A case of the also-rans.

Representing the Conservative Party (aren't they all Conservative bar López?) Ms. Lucía Ramírez's presence might have the effect of taking some votes off Santos and Zuluaga.

Hence, she may have more of an influence than either Rosemary Scallon or Davis had on the Irish contest. But she certainly won't be making Casa de Nariño her home for the next four years.

*For a background article on the peace talks, see Colombia's path to peace?

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