The electoral campaign of 2014 is already turning the political debate in Colombia increasingly intense. With both legislative and presidential elections, next year promises a very dynamic race,and President Santos’ reelection is a critical part of this. Yet on this occasion there is a new element to be taken into account. President Santos has announced that Fundacion Buen Gobierno, a think tank that he himself created and led during a number of years, will be the hub of debate and political strategy during the campaign. As such, some days ago he accepted resignation of some of his closest aides and advisors as they will take on leading positions in this foundation in order to set up the strategy for the upcoming months.
In its role as a local think tank, Fundacion Buen Gobierno has consistently promoted good governance, transparency and sound public management practices. However, this new move has raised a number of questions, as never before had a foundation like this had such a high place and visibility during an electoral campaign. Although it is tempting to compare this with the experience of Alvaro Uribe and his Think Tank Nueva Colombia (Centro de Pensamiento Nueva Colombia), arguably the fact that the overall ideology and policies advanced by Uribe’s CPNC were identified as in the right-wing played against its full public display and the affiliation of a significant share of voters. Fundacion Buen Gobierno, on the other hand, has always advanced a more liberal set of policies and a rather appealing agenda that is easy to adhere to.
Originally conceived of as nonprofit organizations, think tanks are one of the best known and most used channels to influence politics and shape public policy, which is, in fact, at the core of what nonprofits are meant to do. But is this the beginning of a new era of politics in Colombia, with think tanks underpinning political debate, or is a one-off experiment that will be quickly forgotten? Is the increased presence in politics of think tanks like Fundacion Buen Gobierno –and quite likely others to follow– something that will help prompt a renewed, more transparent political contest, as some commentators have argued? Only time will tell. This is uncharted territory; let’s hope it is not one of quicksands.