A new democratic dawn in Colombia?

Colombia may have one of Latin America´s oldest and longest running democracies but the criticism has always been that hers is a democracy only at the time of an election, that away from the physical act of voting, the society has very little involvement in the running of the country. 2012 is beginning to look like the year this began to change.

Citizen movements are growing more vocal and more active by the day, and what is more important, they are starting to achieve success, forcing the government to change policy and securing the resignation of key political figures.

Last year university students struck a blow to the Santos regime´s efforts to reform the education system. Mass protests, strikes and closures left the president with little alternative but to shelve his roundly crticised legislation. Santos promised that a new bill would be shaped through dialogue with the representatives of the student movement. The government was learning to rely on the input of the electorate.
This victory was followed up earlier this summer by a group of internet indignados who plunged the country into constitutional chaos, forcing the president effectively to veto a law he had taken two years to get through congress.
Following congress´ vote in favour, the Justice Reform bill was supposed to receive the rubber stamp from Santos. But as it made its way to the Casa de Nariño, concerned citizens uncovered a series of last minute amendments that had been attached to the law. These amendments delivered virtual impunity for parliamentarians, and would have allowed those already convicted for `parapolitics` to walk free.
Appalled at this affront to democracy the #SeMueveLaContraReforma hastag was established, a Facebook page quickly constructed and an internet war initiated.  The venom spread throughout the nation and the clamour for heads to roll grew riotous. Within hours the president appeared on television for a rare address promising to stand tall against the rank corruption of ´the few´ in parliament.
The Justice Reform bill was supposed to be an emblematic piece of legislation, a defining act for the Santos administration. Thanks to ordinary Colombians it was prevented from ever becoming law.
The latest episode in this shift of power from the centre to the people comes just months after this ´point-of-departure´ episode. Over recent days an internet campaign to bar the re-election of ultra-conservative Alejandro Ordóñez as Inspector General has once again ignited the fervour of the masses.
Ordóñez is a controversial figure, and there are many who see his views as incompatible with his role as the top legal defender of public interest.
Ordóñez is a man who believes the morning after pill is a form of abortion, that attacks gay rights and, it is accused, mixes his role with proclamations of religious and political belief.
To minority groups in particular his is the unacceptable face of the moralising right. To others however, he is a top lawyer who has, during his four years in power, delivered major blows against the corrupt, taking down leading figures with ties to para-militaries.
The argument that Ordóñez should not stand for re-election is a futile one. He is entitled to do so under the provisions of the constitution.
For now Ordóñez appears to have the support of the major political parties and he is almost certain to win. The game can only change if another candidate were to emerge, but so far this looks unlikely.
With a lack of a credible alternative candidate to Ordóñez, it is difficult to see how the citizens will this time make their voice heard.
Ordóñez could never hold a major public position in the majority of Western European countries. His views would be castigated by the press and the voters, he would be forced from office; the political class would not be able to save him.
Given his relative safety in Colombia, is it too early to predict a democratic dawn here?  Is the move from an elective to a participative democracy still but a dream?
Yes and no. Changes in political systems are processes, often gradual ones that meet with resistance from those in control.
The political élite in Colombia governs from ivory towers, and it is difficult, if not impossible, for ´ordinary folk´ to scale them.
Colombia is changing but the rate of change here is slow, the interests in maintaining the status quo too great.
The power of social networks is often hyped, but in a country where the traditional media and the political class occupy the same corridors of power, the near unadulterated democracy of Twitter and of Facebook has greater force than in more traditionally participative countries.
Politicians are being forced to be more aware of their electorate. This is undeniably a healthy development for the country. Whether Ordóñez deserves to be a victim of this movement is irrelevant.
“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” Thomas Jefferson
Posted by Kevin Howlett from Colombia-Politics
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