Colombians have a wide and strange array of options as they go to the polls this Sunday.
2,559 candidates are running for seats in the Senate, the Chamber of Representatives and the Andean Parliament; there seems to be a candidate for every taste. Some popular, if nontraditional candidates include the Partido de Integración Nacional’s (PIN) Benjamin Arrieta, (currently a Senator with the Convergencia Ciudadana party), who proposes free vasectomies and tubal ligations for the country’s poorest citizens and the Partido de la U’s María Fernanda Valencia, a former newscaster who promises to pose nude if elected. Cristián Fredy Murcia Guzmán, the brother of pyramid schemer David Murcia Guzman’s (DMG Holdings) is running for the Senate with Movimiento Apertura Liberal, on a platform that includes calls to restore his brother’s disgraced enterprise.
Complicating Sunday’s elections is a relatively new voting system first instituted in 2006. Intended to strengthen the country’s political parties and movements, Colombians will vote first and foremost for their favorite party. If the party has an open list, voters may (but are not obligated to) specify which candidate they support within that party. But if the party has a closed list (which some do), then the party will have already assigned priority rankings to its candidates and voters will not be able to specify their personal preferences. As a result, many votes may ultimately help elect candidates who are not the voter’s preferred choice. Fortunately, almost all parties for this year’s elections (excluding, most noteably, Movimiento MIRA for the senate race) have presented open lists.
Authors: Daniel Altschuler and Javier Corrales
Despite the recent military coup against Manuel Zelaya, Hondurans will most likely elect their next president by the end of 2009. This might end the crisis that led to the coup. But elections will not fix all of Honduras’ political ills. Honduras must also address the decline in the quality of democracy that predates the current crisis, or else it will remain dangerously susceptible to more breakdowns.
On the surface, Honduras prior to this crisis appeared to have moved steadily toward strengthening democracy. From 1982 to 2008, Honduras held seven consecutive civilian elections followed by uninterrupted presidential terms. Honduras also seemed to have tamed its military by the mid-1990s, as civilian leaders had reined in military spending and the military’s political veto power.
The current crisis in Honduras is a stark reminder that democracy entails more than free and fair elections and a military that answers to civilian authority—crucial as these may be. Democracies must also expand the rule of law, citizens’ access to the justice system, state guarantees of civil and political rights, and protections for political minorities. These added aspects of democracy help democracy deliver positive development outcomes and ensure citizens’ political satisfaction. In Honduras, these added aspects were faltering prior to the recent constitutional crisis.
The immediate cause of the June coup was clearly the inability of democratic institutions to rein in a president who was violating the law. The military compounded the problem by expelling the president. But the longer-term problem was a decline in the quality of democracy, which was hampering the political system’s ability to protect citizens and spread prosperity. Poverty remains rampant, corruption pervasive, and crime has gotten worse. In addition, inequality in this vastly unequal society increased during several years in the last decade. And in surveys we have conducted in rural areas, people often report feeling abandoned by an incapable or absent state.
Last Wednesday, to much fanfare, the Organization of American States' (OAS) annual meeting of the hemisphere's foreign ministers issued a resolution calling for a dialogue to readmit Cuba to the region's premier diplomatic body. Despite all the atmospherics, the statement sealed the OAS's irrelevance and the most promising chapter in the regional organization's history.
Both sides in last week's theater are claiming victory. On the pro-Cuba side, the governments of Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua wasted no time in sending their foreign ministers to declare the resolution that overturned the 1962 rationale for Cuba's suspension—as a Marxist-Leninist government—as a blow to the U.S.'s embargo policy. In a parallel media blitz, U.S. officials rushed to say that the consensus agreement did not readmit Cuba into the OAS, but only called for dialogue in line with "practices, proposals and policies of the OAS."
The latter is supposedly a reference to the human rights and democracy requirements for membership, set out in a number of OAS documents including the 2001 Inter-American Demoratic Charter—heralded at one time as the greatest achievement of the OAS. Now, unfortunately, it's relegated to an oblique reference. Despite the U.S.'s efforts to put the best face on this, the reality is that the final document failed to include explicit mention of the issues detailed in the charter, such as respect for human rights and democracy—topics that the U.S. had insisted be included.