Colombian Liberal Party

Published 12th February, 2014

The Colombian Liberal Party or PLC was founded in 1848 and along with the Conservative Party is one of the oldest parties worldwide which still has strong representation in its national parliament. The party describes itself as Centre to Centre-Left and believes in Liberalism and Social democracy.

The Liberal Party and Conservative Party struggled to live with each other for much of the early years of the newly independent Republic of Colombia leading to civil wars and insurrections on a tediously regular basis. The rivalry eventually erupted into the Thousand Days’ War which left around 100,000 people dead. The Liberals, realising that they couldn’t win, and the Conservatives, with the arm twisting of the United States called a truce in 1902 and for much of the early part of the twentieth century the two parties managed to live with each other and were the only dominant forces.

By 1948 the violence between the two parties had broken out again and in June 1953 a military coup d’état led by General Gustavo Rojas toppled the Conservative government of President Laureano Gómez.

The Conservatives and Liberals, realising that they were getting nowhere, came together in July 1957. The former Conservative President Laureano Gómez and former Liberal President Alberto Lleras signed the ‘Declaration of Sitges’ in which they declared a ‘National Front’. A novel solution, the National Front meant that each party would take an equal number of seats in parliament and would alternate the presidency every four years for 16 years.

That cosy arrangement, which stifled opportunities for all other political parties ended in 1974 leading to a massive victory for the Liberals when they took 113 of the 199 seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 66 of the 112 seats in the Senate. Since then the numbers have gradually dropped off and in 2002 the Liberal Party although still the largest Party with 54 of the 166 seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 29 of the 102 seats in the Senate lost its majority.

The decline in the number of seats won by the Liberals and the Conservatives reflects the ending of the National Front. In 1974 there were five parties contesting the election of which four won seats whilst in 2002 there were 48 political parties contesting the election with 31 winning one or more seats.

The other reason for the decline in support was the defection of Álvaro Uribe from the Liberals to stand as an Independent candidate in the 2002 presidential election. Uribe won the election with 54% of the vote under a Colombia First coalition and the support of the Conservatives. The Liberals found themselves divided.

In 2006 Congress abolished the single term rule for the president and allowed Álvaro Uribe to stand for a second consecutive term. The Liberals put up their 2002 presidential candidate, Horacio Serpa Uribe, for a third time and he came third. The Liberals won 30 of 163 seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 18 of the 102 seats in the Senate.

In 2010 the Liberal’s presidential candidate, Rafael Pardo, came sixth and the party won 37 of 164 seats in the Chamber of Representatives and 17 of the 102 seats in the Senate to come third in both chambers.

The Colombian Liberal Party is a member of the Socialist International.

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