On August 7, Juan Manuel Santos will be sworn in as the next president of Colombia. Mr. Santos managed to win by a large margin and with record turnout in an election that was relatively (and certainly by Colombian standards) free and clear. One reason for Santos's victory was his use of an American technology company, ElectionMall.com, which helped him mount one of Latin America's first social media campaigns.
ElectionMall CEO Ravi Singh spent 50 days in Colombia. A typical
day would find him working on the basics -- teaching field staff how to use
iPhones -- or the complex: integrating Santos's 98,000 Facebook fans into
a get-out-the-vote database. Election Mall is a non-partisan technology
company powered by Microsoft.
In May, Santos was tied with his opponent, former Bogota mayor Antanas Mockus.
Singhs's team, working with the Web 2.0 Victory Team, along with local
agencies and talent including Sistole, SigmaMovil and Servinformacion,
kicked into gear, live-streaming his campaign speeches (Colombia has a
45 percent net penetration level), collecting 4 million emails,
producing a "SuperSantos" video game (fight drug dealers!), organizing
debate-watching parties, and helping voters find their polling places.
According to the campaign:
According to the campaign:
Colombian citizen logs on to SantosPresidente.com. He searches for his
city, county or town among a roster of 1,076 individual Web pages
comprising the first Virtual Headquarters deployed in a Presidential
Election in Latin America. He then inputs his voter ID number and his
exact voting location, along with a suggested route, appears on a
digital map on his screen. The address is then automatically sent to
his cell phone via SMS. With his voter data at hand, he decides to
improve his score on "SuperSantos" and starts playing a video-game
where the candidate fights poverty, corruption, drug-dealers and
Santos won 69
percent of the vote. Social media helped, but so did Santos's ideology.
It is hard to poll outside cities, and that's where Santos found many,
"I believe very firmly in
e-democracy," Singh told me from Dublin, where he is soliciting
clients. "Technology can help increase participation in an election,
but it can't make you win."
Singh "was very
impressed by the humbleness of Juan Manuel Santos. He would come into
the tech space and ask me how do I upload my picture I've just taken
to Facebook? When a candidate comes to you like that and asks simple
questions, for me, it's like, hallelujah." Santos has
three teenage children who encouraged him to be more active online,
When Santos was defense
minister in 2008, he admitted to knowing about a campaign of what might
euphemistically be termed "extrajudicial killings." In order to show
progress in fighting FARC and drug traffickers, the military would often kidnap
poor men, street vendors, and homeless people from cities, take them to the edges of rebel territory, strip them, force them to
put on guerrilla uniforms, and then murder them. And then the military would brag
about killing guerrillas.
The practice was tolerated and supported by the outgoing Uribe government, and it was not enough to hinder U.S.
efforts to solidify a working relationship with the country. Whatever
else a Westerner comes to learn about Santos, this would seem to
disqualify him from office. But it is hard to find a Colombian politician who has not done or been complicit in very, very bad
things. Santos has said that the military was not under his complete
control but that he did his best to reduce the murders.
has promised transparency, freer and more independent courts, and a full
accounting of the killings. He has managed to bring most of the
country's political factions into a unified government. The U.S.
is happy that Santos won the election. Diplomatic officials see him as a reliable partner
He'll be tough on the guerrillas and on drugs and counter the
nefarious influence of Hugo Chavez, yet he managed to obtain a message of congratulations from
both Venezuela and Ecuador upon being elected -- perhaps a sign that he
will be a stabilizing force within the region. (Ecuadorians don't like
Santos; he invaded part of their country while pursuing
FARC guerrillas.) In America, Santos is known as the man who supervised the plan
to trick hostages into releasing presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and three other U.S. citizens in July of 2008.
asked Singh whether he was worried that, when Santos became president, he might use technology for ill, just as
Iranian leaders co-opted Twitter to help repress protesters during
the Green Revolution.
"Will Santos rise to the
occasion or will he have just used this as a onetime wonder to get
elected?" Singh mused. He thinks the former. He believes that Colombian
voters, having been introduced to quasi-participatory e-democracy, will
demand more from their government and be in a better position to
organize collectively to get what they want. Half of them live below
the poverty line. Expectations for Santos are very high.