Today marks a very important day for Colombians; this will be the first time in eight years that they will elect a new president. In the country's bumpy and politically challenged history, only recently have people had the opportunity to be politically active without fear of retribution, or worse. If a candidate gets over fifty percent of the popular vote, the race will be over. Historically this has not happened and subsequent elections are held, knocking out the lower vote-getters each time, until a majority is achieved. This also means the potential for several future "dry weekends" in the coming weeks, as is one of the voting traditions here.
As it stands, the election has become a two-candidate race with two others in contention but not threateningly so. Juan Manuel Santos, a member of the "U" party and self-proclaimed ally of current two-term president Álvaro Uribe, and ex-Bogotá mayor, Antanas Mockus of the "Green Party," are leading in the campaigns. (It should be noted that Mockus's "Green Party" is in no way similar to the "Green Party" of U.S. elections.) The other two candidates that have fallen and risen in popularity, respectively, are Noemi Sanin, the only woman in the race and another self-proclaimed Uribe ally, and ex-Senator Gustavo Petro.
It is amazing to me the knowledge of those too young to vote but the empowerment many of them feel irregardless of this fact. Many times it is easy to dismiss the political views and opinions of students as simply being the rehashings of what they hear at home. Refreshingly, many of my students, can not only give an informed opinion about the candidates but also the entire political process. I know that I didn't have that kind of understanding when I was in ninth grade, let alone an interest.
At school and on the streets, it is not uncommon to see not only signs and flyers but bumper stickers and t-shirts, campaign propaganda techniques that are par for the course in the U.S. but unseen in Colombia before this race. The most frequent are the green shirts sported by Mockus supporters (pictured above at a rally in Cali last weekend*) although the orange and white of Santos and vintage-style yellow and black of Petro are also not unpopular.
Its fascinating to be living in a country undergoing such a potentially huge political change and be able to watch it without having to form an opinion. As an ex-patriot who has only just begun to scratch the surface of the complex history of the country, I do not feel as though I deserve to have one, which makes being a spectator to the whole process that much more engrossing. Whoever emerges victorious, one this is clear - the Colombian people are the true winners for finally finding their voice and being able to participate safely in true democracy.
*Photograph by (and jacked from) K. Radermacher