Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Colombia politics: On a honeymoon

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on September 20, 2010

by The Economist Intelligence Unit, September 17th, 2010.

Colombia’s new president, Juan Manuel Santos, has benefited from a positive national mood since his election in June—which has translated into an 84% approval rating, according to the Centro Nacional de Consultaria. He is using this honeymoon period to propose a series of ambitious policies. During the election campaign Mr Santos positioned himself as the natural heir to the popular outgoing president, Álvaro Uribe (2002-10), but he has since broadened his political agenda and taken a pragmatic approach to governing.

Since assuming office on August 7th, Mr Santos has promoted plans to strengthen the country’s institutions and reinstate the independence of the judiciary, which many feel had been eroded during the Uribe administration. Mr Santos has held a series of meetings with the courts since his election and, more recently, has shelved a controversial judicial reform bill proposed by Mr Uribe that would have given the executive the power to appoint the attorney-general. (Under the current law the president can present three candidates, one of which is then chosen by the Supreme Court for the job). 

Mr Santos has also announced the disbanding of the Departamento Administrativo de Seguridad (DAS), a controversial intelligence agency under executive authority that was accused of wire-tapping opposition politicians and judges during the Uribe administration. 

The new president’s “National Unity” coalition, which includes the centre-right Partido de la U, Partido Conservador (PC) and Cambio Radical (CR), and the centre-left Partido Liberal (PL), has an absolute majority in the legislature, controlling around 80% of the seats in Congress. This will help to smooth the passage of difficult legislation, at least in the short term, but Mr Santos will still need to move quickly to secure support for complex reforms. Plans to reallocate royalties from oil and mining producing regions, change land and labour laws, and reform the health system will test both Mr Santos’s broad support among his coalition partners and his public popularity. 

Indeed, while Mr Santos, a former PL member, will continue to promote a centrist policy agenda, he will have to make good on his promises to increase growth and reduce unemployment in order to keep the coalition intact throughout his term. 

Meanwhile, the opposition is weak and divided. The Polo Democrático Alternativo (Polo) will be the main leftist force in the Congress while the Partido Verde (PV) will remain independent. Both will struggle to influence policy and remain intact. (continue reading… )

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