In Colombia, political reform is a priority in order to guarantee the proper function of democracy and comply with point 2 of the Final Agreement signed between the FARC-EP and the National Government in 2016. This is why several legislative projects have been filed in recent weeks, which seek to modify political organization in Colombia. Among these is the Draft Legislative Act No. 26, filed by the Government on 13 September 2022 via the Minister of the Interior, Alfonso Prada. However, this legislative initiative raises several questions.
Political parties and movements
Political parties and movements function as a bridge that helps to establish and strengthen the relationship between the public and the State. This is why one of the positives of the reform is the way in which it looks to continue strengthening these connections, despite the fact that they have had a bad reputation in recent years despite playing a fundamental role in democracy. According to DANE’s Political Culture Survey (ECP), in 2021 political parties and movements received the lowest percentage of institutional trust, with only 8.5% of members of the public saying they trusted them.
The reform also includes several elements that look to strengthen political parties and movements, for example, the registration of candidates for popularly elected public offices through closed, exclusive and blocked lists. This seeks to avoid clientelism and vote buying, the latter being the crime that is most committed in electoral processes . In addition to this, gender parity is also taken into consideration in these lists, where there must be men and women, which is known as a “zipper list.”
It also seeks to give prominence to political parties and movements through their affiliate bases, which will be the indicator for their legal status to be recognized and the way in which they can access the right to nominate their respective lists and candidates. In the same way, the political responsibility of these applications, that is, of the guarantees granted, would fall on the political parties and movements through pecuniary sanctions or limitations around their participation in the electoral processes.
A critical aspect for political parties in the reform relates to the possibility that members elected by popular vote can change their political party and enrol in a different one (that is to say one that hadn’t endorsed them originally), which is known as turncoat. This measure would be presented just once within the two months following the approval of the Bill. This measure has attracted attention from different parts of society, who point out that it would encourage turncoats, which would mainly benefit the National Government and beyond that the Historical Pact coalition; and it is not clear what benefit it brings for democracy.
That said, when it comes to closed lists, although they bring many benefits for democracy, they must be regulated closely and carefully. According to Roll et al., (2018) , the expected effects may not come to pass. For example, that they do not necessarily translate into greater internal organization inside the parties, or avoid ideological fragmentation within the organizations per se. Nor can it be expected that, in a country like Colombia, where politics is so profoundly personal, members of the public would vote for parties and their programmatic and ideological platforms rather than specific candidates —a fact that could further reinforce personality politics. Another potential problem is the advantage that large parties could have over small ones. For this reason, it is important that this measure be accompanied by other regulations that prevent the potentially counterproductive consequences.
Reforms to political parties and movements that promote their ability develop successfully, require the strengthening of democracy. In particular, it is important that candidates who are nominated for the lists do not end up being handpicked by the party leadership, so that there is true democracy within the political parties and movements. Although this is taken into consideration in Article 2 of the reform (with the obligation for political organizations to include adequate mechanisms that guarantee internal democracy for the election of their candidates in their statutes the), from paper to practice there may be a gap that is not being thought through.
Another major change introduced by the Bill focuses on the financing of political campaigns, which will be financed solely by the State. There, 50% will be in advances and the remaining 50% will be accounted for through the replacement of votes. This is intended to eliminate individuals exploiting the system and avoid possible undue influence. This is a very real problem: according to Transparency for Colombia, 1 in 3 political campaign financers enter into contracts with the State and, for the most part (80%), they are hired under direct contracts .
The truth is that there is no magic recipe that determines to what extent there should be a majority of public financing. Although the OECD points out that private financing can carry risks in terms of attracting interest (and influence) from the private sector, it also mentions that public financing is not without risk. On the contrary, it could mean, in some cases, an abuse of the privileges of those in power, affecting the new political forces that want to participate in the elections .
However, determining the ideal percentage of public or private financing, or whether it should be exclusively public, is not as important as being able to exercise control over the resources at stake in the different political campaigns and ensuring that the candidates actually report the income and real expenses of their respective campaigns in the stipulated time frames.
This is why the Anti-Corruption Institute  has not only called for greater State financing, but also emphasized the need for technical and independent audits that are capable of exercising financial control over the resources at stake in political campaigns. This is a challenge that is becoming increasingly complex in the digital age, due to advertising on social networks and other non-conventional media. It is also important to develop better regulation on the disaggregation of political campaign spending that is recorded in the Cuentas Claras (Clear Accounts) platform.
A pending structural reform
There are other minor points that the political reform proposed by the National Government looks at, such as a change in the minimum age requirement to be a Senator or Congress Representative from what had been 30 to 25 years (Senate), and from 25 to 18 years, respectively. Or the proposed limitation that officials could not be elected for more than two consecutive terms as a Member of Congress, Mayor, Departmental Deputy or Municipal or District Councillor. However, although this reform hopes to make progress on major issues such as the financing of political campaigns or closed lists, touching on relevant and cross-cutting aspects such as gender equality and the strengthening of political parties and movements, it also falls short in terms of the institutional design and architecture required to successfully manage electoral processes.
One of the great pending topics in terms of institutional design refers to the creation of the Electoral Court (EC) and the Colombian Electoral Council (CEC), which, together with the Registrar’s Office, make up the electoral institutional framework. This is one of the recommendations issued by the Special Electoral Mission (MEE) and which the National Government did not include in its reform project, as well as the Legislative Act Project headed by Senators Humberto de la Calle and Ariel Ávila, whose work was also archived on 4 October 2022.
The opportunity to build a structural political reform that modifies the current National Electoral Council has been wasted, which has not only led to them being accused of responding to partisan interests, but also creates a new model that lacks the technical, sanctioning capacity or the ability to exercise surveillance and control of the elections that take place throughout the national territory. Ultimately, the debate on political reform is long and complex and the project filed by the government is only part of the solution, which still has seven debates left to be approved.
 Read the electoral bulletins of the Justice and Impunity Observatory of the Anti-Corruption Institute. https://www.estudiosanticorrupcion.org/cero-impunidad/observatorio-de-justicia-e-impunidad/informes/
 Roll et al. (2018) Political Reform Now! Electoral organization, financing and parties. Editorial UN.
 Transparency for Colombia (2019). One in three campaign financers enter into contracts with the State. Retrieved from: https://transparenciacolombia.org.co/2019/12/07/uno-de-cada-tres-financiadores-de-campanas-celebran-contratos-con-el-estado/
 OECD (2016). Promoting a level playing field through balanced funding in OECD Financing democracy: Funding of Political Parties and Elections Campaigns and the Risk of Policy Capture (35-64). OECD Publishing.
 Anti-Corruption Institute (2022). Public Policy Recommendations. Retrieved from: https://www.estudiosanticorrupcion.org/cero-impunidad/observatorio-de-justicia-e-impunidad/informes/