One condition made during the peace agreement between Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos and The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) involved reforming the country’s electoral system.
Santos’ administration has presented an electoral reform bill, which would transform how the country picks its representatives in multiple ways.
The Colombian government hired an independent “Special Electoral Mission” for the purpose of reforming the electoral system. Its members include the Carter Center, the Political Science Department at the National University of Colombia, the Political Science Department of the University of the Andes and the Dutch Institute for Multiparty Democracy. Though these are all
independent institutions, the government has been “adjusting” the proposal after consulting with political parties. The draft of a legislative act was presented by Minister of Interior Juan Fernando Cristo to the country’s House of Representatives.
Modernization of the electoral system
One of the positive aspects of the proposal involves the modernization of the electoral system. Citizens, parties and officials can use digital media for the purpose of increasing citizen participation. It also plans to introduce electronic voting, first for citizens living abroad, and then, eventually, for the rest of the country.
Expanding citizen participation
The bill also modifies the conditions for creating a political party. If approved, organizations that have a membership base of at least 0.2 percent of the national electorate will be legally recognized. This implies that organizations with at least 71,003 members can be recognized as a political party.
Political parties may run in elections if they prove they can obtain at least one percent of the electorate in the area in which they are running. They could also run for national elections if they show that they have voters at 50 percent.
The proposal also tries to prevent politicians from “hooking on” to power by creating legislative term limits. Additionally, younger citizens will be eligible to run.
A reform designed to favor the FARC?
One of the most obvious negative points of the proposal is that it seems designed to favor the FARC’s entry into politics. After the peace process, it is not surprising that armed groups who agreed to demobilize now want to run for politics. This proposal openly mentions FARC on four separate occasions.
- Read More: The Economic Drive of Mara Gangs in Central America’s Northern Triangle
- Read More: US Checkbook Diplomacy Won’t Stop Migration from Central America
Another article of the reform proposal says political parties and movements will be sanctioned for endorsing illegal armed groups, drug trafficking or crimes against humanity. However, sanctions will apply to offenses committed “during the exercise of the office to which the political party was vested.”
Consolidating power in traditional parties
While the reform would make the creation of political parties more flexible, it also makes it more difficult to preserve their legal status. At present, parties need two percent of the vote in legislative elections to preserve their legal status. If the reform bill is approved, only political organizations with a minimum of three percent of the votes in legislative elections will retain their legal status. To allow room to maneuver in favor of the FARC, the bill allows for an eight-year transitional regime that will include funding new parties and movements that are created until March 2018.
The bill also allows for turnovers. Elected politicians who wish to be re-elected by a different political organization may apply if they resign their office at least 12 months before the day of registration.
According to the reform, the state will finance the operation of political organizations with legal status including electoral propaganda. This will involve more expenses for the already indebted Colombian state. In addition, funding will not be entirely the same for movements and parties. Fifty percent of the budget will be distributed equally among all parties. Fifty percent will be delivered in proportion to the number of seats held by the party. If this happens, citizens would have to give more money to traditional parties.
The National Electoral Council would change its name under this new proposal, taking on the title of Colombian Electoral Council. Citizens would have to finance an unnecessary name-change involving branding and documentation, among other expenses.
If approved, this reform would bring both positive and negative changes to the Colombian electoral system. It is clear that the proposal is partly designed to consolidate the power of political parties. It is also evident that the intention of its authors is to promote the participation of the FARC guerrilla in politics. The integration of the FARC as a political party is not the problem. The problem is treating this group as a political organization with special rights.