Democracy in Latin America: Colombia and Venezuela

By Donald L. Herman | Go to book overview

proportion of the electorate identifying with the two parties has been declining, as a larger segment of the electorate classifies itself as independent, reflecting a more sophisticated issue voting, particularly in presidential elections. An even greater problem for the traditional parties revolves around the phenomenon of electoral abstention, especially in the major metropolitan areas (75 percent abstained in Medellin in 1982, 73 percent in Bogotá).

This failure to mobilize the urban vote is especially acute in light of the increasingly urban composition of the population. By the 1982 elections 27.5 percent of the entire electorate resided in the four major metropolitan areas. The Liberal party traditionally has dominated the urban vote, but the Conservative party has been increasing its share of this vote. The Liberal preponderance in

urban areas has tended to disguise the Conservative party's rural strength, which averaged 55 percent in the post-National Front period. This "rural vote" propelled Turbay into the presidency in 1978, but a similar electoral strategy failed for López Michelsen in 1982.

Inequities associated with the apportionment of the Cámara represent one of the most pronounced effects of political-party intransigence. Deviations from an apportionment scheme based on population are pronounced, even though the Constitution dictates otherwise. These representational distortions stem from uneven population growth and the desire of political parties to maximize their electoral opportunities. The present scheme favors the Conservative party, but with its improving support in urban areas, Conservatives may be less reluctant to reapportion.

The process of "democratic opening" in Colombia will be enhanced by a more equitable apportionment and the extension of additional guarantees to minor parties. However, even if the government actively stimulates new forms of political participation, this is not likely to alter drastically the party system. Colombians have tended to adhere to rational voting patterns; they do not support candidates that have little chance of winning, assuming that they decide to vote. In short, minor parties face an uphill struggle. In view of the intensity of the debate surrounding political reform, change is virtually inevitable, but this does not necessarily indicate that the political system will be highly responsive in terms of resolving basic socioeconomic inequities of Colombian society.


NOTES
1
For a bibliographic reference to how scholars have categorized the Colombian political system, see Bruce Michael Bagley, "Colombia: National Front and Economic Development", in Politics, Policies, and Economic Development, ed. Robert Wesson (Palo Alto, Calif.: Hoover Press, 1984).
2
See Chapter 1 of this volume for a discussion of the differences between formal and substantive democracy.
3
For the standard-reference work on the Colombian political system, see Robert Dix , Colombia: The Political Dimensions of Change ( New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1967). This study should be complemented by three more recent studies: R. AlbertBerry

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