May, 23 2018 (Colombia Reports)

The EU said Tuesday that eight members of the European parliament will monitor Colombia’s elections amid mounting evidence of widespread election fraud.

The lawmakers will arrive in Colombia on Friday and join two representatives that have been in the country since May 4.

The announcement came after leftist candidate Gustavo Petro clashed with the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos over a growing scandal over widespread fraud that allegedly altered “between 10% and 20%” of the outcome of legislative elections in March.

The Europeans will meet with Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin, High Commissioner for Peace Rodrigo Rivera, and representatives from the National Electoral Council and the National Registry.

The MEP’s will also meet with social leaders and visit voting centers on election day on Sunday.

European delegation

Izaskun Bilbao Barandica (Christian Democrat / Spain)
Pilar Ayuso (Christian Democrat / Spain)
Jose Inacio Faria (Christian Democrat / Portugal)
Juan Fernando Lopez (Socialist / Spain)
Marie Arena (Socialist / Belgium)
Ana Miranda (Greens / Spain)
Giulia Moi (Direct Democrat / Italy)
Andre Elissen (Nationalist / The Netherlands)
“The European Union reiterates its firm commitment to Colombia, to the institutions and will continue to work for a country committed to democracy, development and reconciliation,” EU Ambassador Patricia Llombart said in a press release on Tuesday.

The impromptu decision comes just a day after Holguin said that only two EU observers would oversee elections, arguing international support wouldn’t be necessary.

According to the minister, EU officials had told her in private that the EU had confidence that the elections met “all the necessary requirements and we do not need a broader observation mission.”

Less than 24 hours later, the EU had beefed up its monitoring mission.

The growing fraud scandal has put Santos with his back against the wall. The president initially discarded Petro’s claims as an invention of the “extreme left,” but called a high-level emergency meeting to discuss the fraud on Wednesday.

Petro last week called on his supporters to “defeat the fraud of Santos and the Registrar that favors [rival candidate German] Vargas” by massively registering as electoral witnesses.

The anti-corruption candidate called on his followers to “fill the public squares of all the country’s towns” when polling stations close at 4PM on May 27 and “keep an eye on the votes.”

Electoral observers have been warning since February about security flaws that, according to the State Council, allowed a massive fraud in the 2014 elections.

An influential think tank last week said that electoral authorities’ failure to ramp up security allowed a repetition of the fraud in the legislative elections in March.

Elections in Colombia are notoriously corrupt. Santos was elected in 2010 and reelected in 2014 partly due to illegal campaign financing by multinational Odebrecht. The two preceding elections were marred by paramilitary death squads that coerced voters.