What the Mockus surge says about the Uribe years

Reading what the Colombian blogs have to say about the remarkable rise in Antanas Mockus’ poll ratings, this quote from analyst Claudia López stuck with me,

"Uribismo vs. anti-uribismo is no longer the axis of Colombian politics, and will not define the next elections."

Whatever you may think of Mockus or Santos, the fact that a hugely popular President is not able to translate his popularity to his successor would appear to be truly remarkable.

But is it?

After all, it is also part of a trend that is becoming the norm. Michelle Bachelet could not prevent the right from returning to power in Chile after twenty years, and, in spite of the assurances of many political analysts, Lula’s handpicked candidate simply refuses to take off.

This speaks volumes about how far we’ve come in some Latin American countries. It says something about the state of our democracies when the weight of a popular incumbent does not determine elections.

The chavista tag line about Álvaro Uribe in Colombia is that he is, at best, an authoritarian, and at worst, a paramilitary drug-smuggler. But the Mockus surge suggests Colombia’s democracy is more sophisticated than this.

After all, Uribe has accepted a court ruling preventing him from clinging to power, and his candidate finds himself in all sorts of trouble against a Habermassian mathematician who once mooned a crowd to shush the hecklers. Instead of coasting to victory, Juan Manuel Santos will have to scramble for votes, and Colombians predict he may do this by making Chávez an issue. And if there’s someone Colombians love to hate, it’s Hugo.

The forecast on the border? Cloudy, with a chance of flowery rhetoric.

This, in a weird way, is vindication for  Álvaro Uribe. After all, no self-respecting autocrat would ever let a democratic process favoring an outsider (!) tarnish his legacy. Uribe has warned about the dangers of letting just anyone take the reins of the government and risk the many successes of his Presidency, but Colombians have stopped listening. They are ready to write the next chapter on their own, which is how a democracy is supposed to work.

Critics say Álvaro Uribe destroyed Colombian democracy. But with Mockus posed to win, it looks like Uribe may have cemented it.