BOGOTÁ, Colombia – The government is fine-tuning a strategy to guarantee the safety of the more than 86,000 candidates running for office in elections that will be decided when Colombians vote on Oct. 30.
“We’ll work with all our strength to have lawful elections and keep campaigns free of unwanted pressure,” said Minister of the Interior Germán Vargas Lleras regarding the security plans for the elections of governors, mayors, council members and aldermen. “We will not accept any coercion of Colombians or any pressure on our elected officials.”
According to the National Civil Registry, a record 86,451 candidates are running for office nationwide, a 17% increase compared to 2007.
Law enforcement officials have bolstered their fight against terrorist groups who may be plotting violence against candidates or voters throughout the democratic process.
On Aug. 14, the National Police and army seized several explosives from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’s (FARC) 53rd Front in the department of Meta that were expected to be used in attacks on candidates and polling stations throughout the area.
Later that day in the city of Bucaramanga, the National Police seized rifle cartridges, hand grenades and electrical detonators that were expected to be used in attacks on Election Day throughout the department of Santander.
The busts came on the heels of the army’s destroying five bombs it confiscated from FARC terrorists in the departments of Caquetá, Putumayo and Santander.
Last July, officials found 24 plans by the FARC and ELN (National Liberation Army) to sabotage several electoral zones next October, according to Adriana Serrano, specialist in civil conflicts and political scientist. “The [departments of] Putumayo and Meta are particularly vulnerable to these attacks. Efforts will have to be doubled next October in hot zones to avoid problems during elections,” she said.
Rodrigo Rivera, the country’s defense minister, said it’s imperative the government takes steps to make sure the democratic process runs smoothly.
“We will guarantee that the people will be able to participate in the electoral debate and be free to move around, and the candidates will be able to promote their platforms,” Rivera said. “The candidates must support and work closely with the authorities. Our intention is to collaborate with them during this process. We need to be very disciplined and rigorous to avoid any unpleasant surprises.”
Rivera said there have been 52 documented threats against candidates this year. He also said special units of police officers will be deployed to 111 municipalities that are considered to be at-risk for violence.
“We have begun this exercise early, in a timely fashion and in advance, to share intelligence and integrate efforts to guarantee that we will have a transparent electoral process, untouched by violent intimidation and corruption,” Rivera said.
The Mission for Electoral Observation (Misión de Observación Electoral, MOE) published a report on Aug. 17 claiming there may be a 67% increase of voter fraud during elections, so officials overseeing registries must check names very carefully.
National Civil Registrar Carlos Ariel Sánchez said he’s confident authorities have taken measures to prevent voter fraud this year.
“The entity has bolstered itself in the best possible way to guarantee transparency in these elections. We will have more than 6,000 watching the transparency of the elections,” he said. “The registration of identity cards for the elections was started in February and May, in order to detect potential false identification cards. The Registrar will be able to count votes more quickly and have the results available the day of the vote.”
Colombians will elect 32 governors, 1,102 mayors, 418 congress members, 12,061 council members and 4,958 aldermen, a total of 18,571 leaders who will govern from 2012 to 2015.