Former rebel wins Bogota mayor race in violence-marred Colombia elections

The top news from Colombia's municipal elections was ex-guerrilla Gustavo Petro's victory in the Bogota mayor race. In farther flung regions the race was marred by violence and corruption claims.

Fernando Vergara/AP
Gustavo Petro speaks to supporters after winning Bogota's mayoral race in Bogota, Colombia, on Sunday. Voters elected Mr. Petro mayor of Bogota, the first time an ex-guerrilla has won Colombia's second most important elected office.

On Sunday, Colombia held local elections for governor, mayor and town council posts. El Tiempo breaks down the complex numbers while La Silla Vacia has ten points of analysis worth reading.

One key point of this election is the continuing breakdown of Colombia's political party system, something I've commented on before. No single party dominated this election across the country.

Additionally, this was an election with significant political violence (41 candidates murdered) and a troubling level of influence by criminal groups in certain regions of the country.

InSight Crime, Just the Facts, El Tiempo, BBC, and Al Jazeera all analyze the influence of criminal groups in these elections. The BACRIM certainly won some key local elections, providing access to local corruption, money laundering, land deals, and drug trafficking routes. Violence by former paramilitary groups and the FARC played roles in corrupting and influencing local elections in various regions.

All of this is separate from the most watched race in the country, the mayoral post of Bogota. Gustavo Petro won 32 percent of the vote to defeat former mayor Enrique PeƱalosa and numerous other candidates. Petro ran on an anti-corruption platform, neutralizing the left vs. right debate and distancing himself from former Mayor Samuel Moreno, who was forced out due to corruption.

It's that divide between the big cities and the other regions that deserves watching. The race in the capital, along with some of the other big cities, were fascinating democratic campaigns held almost in isolation from the other elections in the country. While Colombia as a country is democratic and the major population centers have strong democratic elections, some local elections contained a level of violence and corruption that should have the hemisphere questioning the democratic legitimacy in those regions.

Unfortunately, among the many continuing weaknesses of the Inter-American Democratic Charter is that it can't deal with democracy at a local level. A stolen mayoral election or a corrupted town council are not the sort of grave breaches in democracy that a coup or a stolen presidential election are.

--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.

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