A guest post from Ben Fairbairn, who usually blogs here:
First, a little background. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but there’s been a small recession recently. Annoyingly this happened at precisely the time my PhD came to end, putting me on the job market at precisely the time that jobs became few and far between. A consequence of this is that as of March this year I have been working in a University in Bogota in Colombia.
This has been a very interesting time to be a Brit in Colombia. As I write this, Colombians brace themselves for the swearing in this Sunday of their new leader, president Juan Manuel Santos. [This has now happened – Cory] The events leading up to this have been particularly interesting – the UK general election and the Colombian presidential election happened almost in parallel.
During the tense five days between the results of the UK election and the announcement of the formation of the coalition government, several commentators noted that the UK seemed to be strangely rushing matters.
In most PR systems the negotiations surrounding the formations of coalitions are often drawn out for weeks, not days. Comparing the conduct of the Colombian election with that of the UK election, it seems to me that it’s rather more than just coalition negotiations that need to be given more care and attention.
The last Colombian elections – plural, for there are several rounds of voting in what is essentially a system of AV `writ large’ – all passed very uneventfully. This has not always been the case when it comes to elections in Colombia. Before the outgoing president Alvaro Uribe Velez did much to ‘clean up’ the system, kidnappings by the Marxist rebels were running at an average of eight per day. Worse still, in the 2002 presidential elections when Uribe first came to power, Íngrid Betancourt, the candidate for the ‘Oxygen Green Party’, was kidnapped while campaigning. She was rescued safely in July 2008, six and a half years later. And she was not the only candidate to come under attack.
This year, however, was an exemplary model on how to run an election. Every round of voting passed almost entirely event free. his was despite the fact that for much of the campaigning the polls looked extremely tight with Green party candidate Antanas Mockus giving the liberals a serious run for their money for much of the campaign.
Compare this to the banana republic of Britain where a tight election saw thousands of voters essentially having the door of the polling station slammed in their face, thousands more overseas voters having their attempt to exercise their democratic right scuppered by little more than ‘paper work problems’ and all this in a system so ‘democratic’ that a party receiving almost one in every four votes ends up with less than one in every eleven seats.
Colombia: a country that supplys almost a third of the world’s cocaine; is almost 75% outside of its government’s control and has been in an almost chronic state of armed conflict, kidnappings, bombings and corruption for over four decades. The UK: the world’s fifth largest economy; a permanant member of the UN security council and a country sufficiently stable to be trusted with a nuclear deterant. Which do you think can run a good clean election?