Colombia, one of the few surviving democracies in Latin America, is to face a vital test of its political stability in the coming months, as the country goes to the polls in February in a general election to choose both Houses of Congress.
Colombia, one of the few surviving democracies in Latin America, is to face a vital test of its political stability in the coming months, as the country goes to the polls in February in a general election to choose both Houses of Congress. For 20 years power has been shared between the Liberals and the Conservatives. But recent workers' riots triggered by soaring inflation have underlined the fragility of the alliance between the two traditional parties. There are fears that a no-holds barred election campaign could upset it altogether. This was the theme of the speech given by President Alfonso Lopez Michelsen when he attended the closing session of Congress on Friday (16 December).
SYNOPSIS: The strong security that surrounded the Congress building underlines the tension that exists in the capital. For most Colombians the forthcoming elections will be proof that democracy can survive in a region noted for its military dictatorships. President Lopez, who called out the army to control rioting workers in September, has been criticised for his tough line during the crisis. Even his own Liberal Party was divided over his rejection of the workers' pay demands.
Before the labour disturbances, the Liberals, who dominate the Senate and the Congress, were favourites to emerge again with a majority. But as things stand now observers believe it will be a close race.
Under the power sharing system introduced after the civil war in 1948, Liberals and Conservatives alternated in the Presidency. But that system ends next year, when both parties openly contest the leadership.
President Lopez will not be a candidate. Under the constitution he will have to stand down. The Liberal candidate to replace him is to be chosen later. Because of divisions within the party there are three contestants for the office, so the Liberal nomination will be chosen in a United States-style primary. Whatever the outcome, the future of Colombia's democracy seems secure from a military coup; the army has pledged to uphold the constitution.