Post-Uribe Colombia

BUENOS AIRES – Colombia’s presidential election at the end of May will be unique in many ways. Álvaro Uribe’s plans for a third term were dashed in March by the Constitutional Court, which, despite massive pressure, upheld the constitutional prohibition on serving more than two consecutive terms. Uribe’s absence has opened the election in unforeseen ways.

Although Uribe is now technically a “lame duck” president, he does retain considerable influence, and is trying hard to keep the issue of internal security – the central focus of his presidency – at the heart of the electoral battle. He has also sought to benefit from ratcheting up tensions with neighboring Venezuela, and counts on his dauphin, former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, to unite the country’s right-wing forces in order to ensure continuity with his policies.

But Colombia does not seem to want continuity at any price; instead it now appears to favor moderate revision of what Uribe has built over the past decade. This renovation comes in a form that is unusual in contemporary Colombian history. The alliance between presidential candidate Antanas Mockus and vice-presidential candidate Sergio Fajardo offers the possibility of a real break, because neither man comes from the currently weakened traditional liberal-conservative political milieu. Instead, each comes from the world of academia (both hold doctorates in mathematics).

Their principal – and successful – experience is in local politics. Mockus was mayor of Bogota and Fajardo mayor of Medellin, and both want to shift the government’s main priority from internal security to strengthening the rule of law, education, science and technology, productivity, and SOUND public finances. Neither is backed by urban political machines or shady armed organizations in rural areas, but by independent groups, non-ideologically inclined citizens, and new voters keen to cast their ballots for unconventional candidates. Both have ingeniously mobilized young people and made innovative use of online social networks.