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News > Latin America

Colombian Elections: Recap of Complaints and Irregularities

  • A follower of centrist Sergio Fajardo reacts as Colombian right-wing candidate Ivan Duque and leftist Gustavo Petro head to a presidential runoff, in Bogota, Colombia.

    A follower of centrist Sergio Fajardo reacts as Colombian right-wing candidate Ivan Duque and leftist Gustavo Petro head to a presidential runoff, in Bogota, Colombia. | Photo: Reuters

Published 28 May 2018

Sunday's presidential elections were peaceful and had one of the highest turnouts in Colombia's recent history, but it also had its flaws.

Colombians voted for their favorite candidate on Sunday's presidential elections, becoming one of the electoral processes with the highest turnouts in the country's recent history. According to official numbers, 19,336,134 Colombians attended the polls, that is, 53.37 percent of the 36,219,940 registered voters. A victory for democracy, said many.


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But as usual, the process was riddled with irregularities that need to be addressed in the upcoming second round on June 17. As none of the candidates got the mandatory 50 percent plus one vote to actually become the new president of Colombia, the candidates in the first two places, Ivan Duque, the candidate backed by far right former President Alvaro Uribe and progressive Gustavo Petro will face off in the second round.

Already in the first hours of last Sunday's elections, Petro's Human Colombia Movement coalition denounced pre-marked ballots in favor of the right-wing hardliner Duque in Quintin Lame, Tacueyo, Toribio municipality, and complained about the presence of unregistered electoral witnesses in different polling stations, among other irregularities.

In total, the Immediate Reception for the Electoral Transparency Unit (URIEL) registered 1,239 complaints over electoral offences during the voting day.

In the Gabriela Mistral polling station in Acacias, Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) reported that electoral staff were handing up to seven ballots to voters when only one was needed.

The same organization said only half of the observed polling stations in the Magangue municipality had the biometric identification system, despite being required in all of them. The system is required in order to have an alternative method to identify voters, who would otherwise only be identifiable by their ID cards.

The MOE considered that the Civil Status National Registry should “supply the required equipment for the biometric identification of every citizen in order to avoid identity theft of voters at a national level and not only in 15 municipalities.” A total of 31 complaints were registered related to this issue.

But complaints and irregularities regarding the presidential elections had been accumulating even before the actual voting day. From March 12 until May 26, one day before the elections, the MOE recorded 221 complaints regarding irregularities and anomalies in the presidential election process.

About 51 percent of those complaints were related to pressure and threats to vote for a certain candidate, and a great part of that pressure comes directly from employers to employees, with threats of losing their jobs.

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“The MOE expresses its concern regarding the high number of complaints (70) about incentives or direct pressure from employers towards their employees to vote for a certain candidate. This behavior is known as duress and corruption towards the voter and it's punished by law, because not only does it put at risk the right to choose freely, but also threatens the right of citizens to work,” warned the MOE.

Other complaints include the irregular use of propaganda and media (19.8 percent), and irregularities in the registering process for voting IDs.

Also, prosecutors opened investigations into 70 public servants that illegally took part in the electoral process, including the mayors of El Banco (Magdalena), Galapa (Atlantico), Togüi and Moniquira (Boyaca). About 13 percent of the complaints were related to such actions.

On the second report given on the election day, the MOE declared that most of the complaints, 186, were related to vote buying, becoming the most reported electoral offence of the day. This was followed by reports on political propaganda inside polling stations, which is prohibited, with 173. Also, the body reported that in 36 percent of the polling stations voters had to cast their vote in visible locations, violating the secret vote principle.

But despite the problems, the MOE said the process ran smoothly and peacefully, and no presence of illegal armed groups were registered on Sunday.

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