There are those who say that voting is useless. That no candidate fulfils his promises, that real power prevents a programme of real change from being carried out, that once “on top”, amnesia erases all moral commitment to the majority who put him in that position…

By: Javier Tolcachier

Those who opt for abstention also tend to add that power corrupts, bringing down previous good intentions; that the opposition will do everything possible to block the government’s measures; that the concentrated ownership press will order what the government should do from its headlines; that imperial policy will not allow it to deviate from its mandates; that, in short, the supposedly democratic model is already outdated and does not respond to the interests of the people.

And from a certain point of view, those who point this out are not without reason. And there are more than a few who think this way… or feel this way, which, for that matter, does not matter.

The numbers speak for themselves.

Voter registration and abstention in Colombia

In the 2002 presidential elections, in which Álvaro Uribe Vélez won in the second round against Horacio Serpa, abstention was around 54 per cent out of an electoral roll of 24.2 million eligible voters. On that occasion, around 400,000 people chose to reject with a null or blank vote. Four years afterwards, the electoral roll increased by more than two and a half million. However, only 700,000 more voters went to the polls than in the previous election, raising abstention by one point. And the same number again said no to any of the contenders.

In 2010, with almost 30 million Colombians registered to vote (11 per cent more than in the previous round), 51 per cent abstained from voting in the first round and more than 55 per cent in the second round, with Juan Manuel Santos being elected as Uribe’s successor. Blank, annulled and unmarked ballots amounted to nearly 700,000, reaffirming the majority rejection of the competing options.

In 2014, things got worse. More than sixty per cent of the possible voters (some 33 million) in the first round and 52 per cent in the second round did not turn out, to which must be added one million blank or invalid votes in both rounds. In the last election (2018), in which a candidate anointed by Uribe and his party was also elected president, abstention fell to 46 per cent, perhaps because voters perceived that this time the tables could be turned. The then losing candidate, Gustavo Petro, now appears to be the favourite in the imminent race.

So why vote?

With the usual quadrennial regularity (suspicious in a country with so much irregularity), on 29 May there will be new presidential elections with a voter register that, as on previous occasions, has once again increased by 3 million voters.

How many of the 39 million registered voters will take part in this race? Has there been any change in the people’s perception of democracy or politics in general? Has the violence fomented from within and without by interests unrelated to the people’s well-being diminished?

Of course this has not happened. On the contrary, unrest has increased and this is precisely the reason, together with the possibility of a credible candidate in opposition to Uribe and his clan, why perhaps the percentage of voters will be higher this time.

What has happened is that the people have made their voices heard in the streets. For three months, between November 2019 and February 2020 first and then from 28 April 2021 onwards, a National Strike mobilised vast sectors of the country against the policies of the Duque government in a widespread and generalised protest. Sit-ins, blockades, popular assemblies and gigantic demonstrations ensued; despite the repression, the pandemic, and the spate of assassinations and massacres. The unrest turned into rebellion, and the rebellion went deep into the popular sentiment, waiting for the opportunity to change course.

How else, after a forceful mobilisation, could the people signal their discontent against 20 years of repressive and regressive policies, if not with their vote? How else could a new replacement for the old regime be prevented from placing the reins of political power in the hands of the oligarchy?

Despite the distrust and disrepute, amply justified by an exclusionary, lying and structurally corrupt political system such as the Colombian one, and precisely for this very reason, on this occasion, when the balance seems to be tipping in a new direction, the reasons to go out and vote weigh more heavily.

Who to vote for?

The massive awakening of the Colombian people, which frames the political situation of the country, cannot be separated from similar events that took place in October 2019 in Chile and Ecuador, the former immersed in a neoliberal dictatorship for almost half a century, the latter in the midst of regressive policies at the hands of a president who betrayed the mandate received at the ballot box.

It is interesting to see what happened in the elections in these countries after the majority expressions of popular rejection of adjustment policies. In Ecuador, the vote for Andrés Aráuz, which could have neutralised the path to the neoliberal abyss initiated by Lenin Moreno, was dispersed in the first round with candidates such as Yaku Pérez (Pachakutik) or Xavier Hervas (Izquierda Democrática), allowing the alliance of “everyone against Correa and his candidate” to catapult the right-wing banker Lasso to the Carondelet palace in the second round.

By contrast, in Chile, a heterogeneous coalition – as heterogeneous as the social movement that rose up against the Piñera government – managed to defeat fascism, putting Gabriel Boric, representative of a young generation, into the presidential office. Beyond the electoral triumph, the Chilean people were able to set in parallel the long-awaited and strategic constitutional transformation that, if approved on 4 September, will dissolve the last formal shackles of the Pinochet legacy.

This background is certain evidence for the Colombian people, who have suffered uninterrupted violence since colonial times, but who have shown their gallantry and developed a great capacity to overcome extreme adversity.

This is why, despite the pressures, the dirty war and the threats, and with the necessary distance from the usual manipulation of public opinion polls, the predictions of the pollsters prior to the election on the 29th are very similar, with Petro obtaining between 36 and 45 percent of the valid votes.

It is not unreasonable to think, however, that the polls, almost all of them commissioned by media controlled by the economic power, aim to relax participation by ensuring that Petro will come out on top in any case, and in turn, create the impression that there will be a second round.

The suspicion increases when one observes that in the latest polls, the candidacy of Rodolfo Hernández – supposedly on the side of “anti-politics” – is being boosted to the detriment of the right-wing candidate Federico “Fico” Gutiérrez, who, according to all the pollsters, would inevitably lose in the second round.

Another desperate last-minute manoeuvre by the conservative sector is to question the honour and reliability of the national registrar, Alexander Vega, whose removal, warns the Historical Pact, could mean a postponement of the elections, thus making possible new stratagems to prevent the victory of progressivism.

As for voter turnout, the polls do not offer any data, since they all use the question of willingness to participate in the election as a filter, which does not allow us to know in advance how large the abstention could be.

However, it is possible to find references to the broad support among young people for Petro, sweeping the other contenders in this segment of the population, which could mean that in this group, more prone to rejection by abstention than others, there would be a greater turnout, which in turn would make the victory of the senator and former mayor of Bogotá even greater.

With only a few days to go before the elections, and barring last-minute political barbarism, the trend is unlikely to change.

Thus, Colombians are facing a rare circumstance, that of uniting the useful vote (for a winner) with the vote of consciousness, uniting action, heart and head with the vote. A golden opportunity to begin to change their destiny in unity with themselves and with the social future.