Elections Part II: The World Cup

by hredekop

So after my last post, I forgot to mention that Colombia has another interesting function in their electoral system: the second round.  If none of the candidates in the presidential election receive more than 50% of Colombia’s vote, the process moves to Round Two, where the top two candidates face off again with the option of a blank vote.

On May 25th, ultra-rightwing Oscar Ivan Zuluaga won the first round with current president Juan Manuel Santos following him into the second round of voting on June 15th.  Seeing as Colombia was already quite disillusioned with the elections (see Elections Part One below) and considering there was a voters abstination of over 60%, no one was that excited to be going back to the polls.  It was clearly a vote for the lesser of two evils since Zuluaga’s party affiliation invoked not-so-distant memories of paramilitary death squads across the country, while Santos refused to recognize the people’s right to strike when miners, farmers, and indigenous took to the streets last October.

What seemed to be higher on the list of priorities was Colombia’s first World Cup game scheduled for June 14th, the day before round two of elections.  After a 16 year drought, Colombia was overjoyed to make their appearance on the international fútbol stage again.  So much so, that over 200 000 ballots the next day were cast with Pekerman written on them, the head coach for the national soccer team.

I’m also convinced that the game changed the direction of election day.  The second round run off between Santos and Zuluaga could not have been more polarized regarding their stances on war and peace: Santos’ propaganda involved a sappy montage of Colombians writing PAZ on their hands in sharpies while Zuluaga was not even hiding the fact that he’s a puppet to former president  and death squad leader Alvaro Uribe as they appeared side by side in his campaign ads.

Game day was stressful and intense, and when Colombia won against Greece 3-0, the country breathed a sigh of relief and started to believe that maybe peace is possible.  So a couple million more than in the first round went out to vote the next day, and indeed “peace” won.  Santos, in his victory speech, thanked the tricolor, among others, for their great display of teamwork and dedication who helped him win with a 5% lead over Zuluaga.

The election buzz was short-lived and the world cup continued to dominate the hearts and minds of the Colombian citizens creating a unique and beautiful unity across the country, up until a controversial loss against Brazil in the quarterfinals.  Unfortunately, the politicians took that opportunity to make some drastic policy changes while Colombians were engaged elsewhere.  On June 18th, while Chile destroyed Spain, the Senate laid to rest a law proposing to revive overtime compensation; on June 30th when France and Germany eliminated Nigeria and Algeria, the ministry of mining announced the largest increase to gas prices in three years ($153/gallon); and finally several world leaders (including ex-presidents from Chile, Spain, England, the U.S., and Brazil) came to Colombia to resurrect more neoliberal policies that have failed terribly in Europe (see article here).

I absolutely loved every minute of the World Cup (although the questionable refereeing which seems to be the cause of Colombia’s loss to Brazil still has me seething), and I do believe it gave Colombians a reason to come together as a nation.  It’s unfortunate that this display of a nation’s pride and humility can be used against them as a smokescreen.  I hope that these young men, coming from all corners of the country, can continue to spread their spirit and use their newfound clout and name to indeed carry out Santos’ campaign for peace.