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On March 13 in Colombia there were two national elections, both important, which showed a shift in national politics to the left: a novelty in Colombia, a country that has never had a left-wing president in its history.
The elections to renew the parliament were won by the current opposition to the government of center-right president Iván Duque, even if no party exceeded 16 per cent of the vote (the result was a very fragmented parliament). On the same day, the primaries were also held to choose the candidates of the country’s three main coalitions for the presidential elections to be held on 29 May. The results reinforced the role of favorite of Gustavo Petro, former mayor of Bogota and former guerrilla, now leader of the left-wing alliance and environmentalist Pacto Histórico.
“Although without major surprises, the political landscape of the elections in Colombia shows a country that is not comparable to that of the past”, he written Daniel PardoColombia correspondent of BBC Mundo.
The political elections
In the first vote, the members of the Senate and the House were elected for the next four years, until 2026. The outgoing parliament was formed in 2018 when the first legislative elections were also held since the peace reached in November 2016 with the FARC , the former Marxist-inspired revolutionary group that had fought against state institutions for decades.
In 2018, the Democratic Center, the conservative and nationalist party of the current president Iván Duque, had narrowly won. Democratic Center was founded by former president Alvaro Uribe, who with Duque himself had campaigned for the No to Peace with the FARC. Despite having won the most seats, the conservative parties still did not gather enough votes to form a majority and had been forced to build a large coalition in order to govern.
The results of the latest policies confirmed the fragmentation of the vote, which however upset the balance in favor of the leftist forces.
For the first time in Colombia, the left-wing coalition has positioned itself as the main one in both the Senate and the House, with unprecedented representation in the country’s recent history. In the Senate, Pacto Histórico obtained just over 14 percent of the votes, and in the Chamber just over 15. Among the most voted parties there are the Partido Conservador with about 13.5 percent of the votes in the Senate and just over 12 percent in the Chamber, and the Partido Liberal with 12.7 percent of the votes in the Senate and 14.2 percent of the votes in the Chamber.
The vote was also seen as an important test for President Duque’s rule and the outcome was pretty clear: the Democratic Center did badly, moving from first to fifth in the Senate and from first to fourth in the House.
Over the past three years, Duque’s presidency has been marked by discontent and protests. Last year, the president was especially challenged for handling the pandemic. Colombia had imposed one of the longest lockdowns in the world which had caused enormous economic problems, including the closure of over 500,000 businesses and an increase in the poverty line among the population.
Between 2019 and then again in 2021, the government’s proposed tax reform law caused major demonstrations across the country: it was withdrawn, Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla resigned, but the protests continued, yes they were extensive and had been repressed with massive state violence. The growing gun violence in the countryside, exacerbated by Duque’s failure to implement the peace agreement with the FARC, have also contributed to diminishing the president’s popularity: a recent research cited from Al Jazeera says Duque is frowned upon by about 75 percent of the population.
On March 13, together with the legislative elections, the Colombians also voted for the primary in view of the presidential elections next May (Colombia is a presidential republic) and the results showed a very clear outcome and a strong polarization between left and right, to unlike what emerged in the legislative elections.
Among the three political coalitions that presented themselves, the most voted candidate in absolute terms was Gustavo Petro, from the center-left coalition, with 4.4 million preferences (over 80 percent of the votes). Petro is 61 years old, he was mayor of Bogota, the capital of Colombia, from 2012 to 2015, and he is also a former guerrilla of the April 19 Movement (M-19), a left-wing revolutionary group active in the 1970s and 1980s. 1990 signed a peace agreement with the government and withdrew from the armed struggle, becoming the M-19 Democratic Alliance party.
Petro has always maintained that he did not fight directly, but that he only carried out administrative tasks, however, negotiating with the state the peace and amnesty of many of his comrades.
Petro – who had already run for president in 2018 when Duque later won – will be the candidate of the left-wing coalition Pacto Histórico: “Pacto Histórico has achieved the best results of progressivism in the history of Colombia,” said Petro after the results. His personal achievement was considered historic, for a country traditionally ruled by the right: if he wins, Petro would in fact become the first left-wing president to lead the country.
For the center-right coalition Equipo por Colombia, the former mayor of Medellín, Federico Gutierrez, won, with about 54 per cent of the votes, that is 2.1 million preferences; while Sergio Fajardo, also a former mayor of Medellín, won for the center-center coalition Centro Esperanza: he obtained more or less 33 per cent of the preferences, or about 722 thousand votes. Commenting on the results, Gutierrez, one of Petro’s staunchest opponents, asked for “the protection of our democracy and our freedoms” against “populism”, while Fajardo took up the slogan put forward by almost all the candidates in the fight against corruption.
Petro, Gutierrez and Fajardo will face each other in the May 29 elections along with some other candidates who did not participate in the primary: among them there is also Ingrid Betancourt, the Colombian centrist politician who was kidnapped by the FARC in 2002 and remained hostage for six years. If in the presidential elections no candidate or no candidate obtains 50 percent plus one of the votes, the two most voted will go to the ballot to be held in June.
Commenting on the results of the primaries, several local and other newspapers talked a lot about Francia Márquez, who had run for Pacto Histórico and who, with 800,000 votes, came in second place after Petro in his coalition and in third. absolute place. That a figure with her profile achieved such a result was seen as a big change for the country.
Francia Marquez, Bogota, Colombia, January 25, 2022 (AP Photo / Ivan Valencia)
Márquez is 39 years old, was born in Suárez, in a south-western region particularly affected by drug trafficking and armed conflict, and she herself was the target of several attacks for her activities as an environmentalist. She is a lawyer and she is a feminist. If Petro becomes president, it is possible that Márquez could become her deputy or one of the most important policies of the potential future government. But not only that, also of Colombian politics in the coming years.
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