In Colombia, the Congress is voted at the same time as the selection of candidates for the presidential elections: three inter-party consultations (left, center and right) coexisted on Sunday, March 13, with the selection of the new members of the Senate and the Chamber that They will live with the new head of state. In fact, the result of these elections serves to draw the contours of the playing field for the next four years. They are the first light for future presidents. And the one thrown by 2022 is defined by the contrast drawn by six keys to understanding how the country leads to its defining political feature today: polarization.
1.- The strength of Petro (and of the entire Historical Pact)
Gustavo Petro managed to get four million people out of their homes to vote for a consultation that was clearly decided. Neither Francia Márquez (despite her excellent result, above almost all the right-wing candidates and all those from the center) and much less Camilo Romero were credible alternatives, and even so, the Historical Pact was the election with the most participation. . A gesture of strength on which Petro will build his way to the presidency. Now he also knows that, if he achieves it, he will have at least 17 senators and 25 representatives on his side, a very considerable increase with respect to the approximate sum of the forces furthest to the left (excluding Comunes, the party of the old FARC).
2.- The center is emptied
Sergio Fajardo fulfilled what was anticipated by the polls and won his query, the Esperanza Center, but he did so with far fewer votes than expected. Between him, Juan Manuel Galán and Alejandro Gaviria barely added less than half of the votes that Gustavo Petro achieved by himself. This is important because all of them had presented themselves as the only viable alternative to the candidate of the left, and all of them come from a discursive and political tradition associated with the elites: a mathematician professor from a wealthy family, the son of one of the liberal leaders outstanding figures of the late 20th century, and a former rector of the most prestigious university in the country.
3.- The failure of the New Liberalism
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One of these centrist referents, Juan Manuel Galán, suffered his worst defeat not in the consultation of pre-candidates of which he was a part, but in the legislative election. The list of the New Liberalism to the Senate, closed, plural in gender, region and origin, but at the same time stuffed with media and intellectual references, failed to place any person in the highest legislative institution in the country. In the Chamber there was only one (Julia Miranda). Thus, a difficult inheritance remains for the Galán (together with Juan Manuel is his brother Carlos Fernando), who aspired to rebuild the democratic assault on their father’s power that truncated the drug trafficker with his murder in the eighties. Both that and the victories of the center in Colombia in recent decades have been from rather inclusive and pragmatic platforms, not so much centralist or elitist, which have run aground one after another at different points in the electoral process (Antanas Mockus in 2010 was the that went further: less than 40% of votes in the second round). The center in general, and New Liberalism in particular, should incorporate this lesson.
4.- The ‘green’ stamina
In parallel, the Green Alliance in Congress and Carlos Amaya (former ‘green’ governor in Boyacá) in the inter-party consultation of Centro Esperanza achieved comparatively better results. They were the only pieces of the center that were saved from the almost generalized burning suffered by the moderates. In fact, the sum of the Alianza Verde and the traditional center-left of the Polo Democrático Alternativo (whose leader, Jorge Enrique Robledo) was also in the Center’s consultation) in 2018 has managed to slightly increase its legislative presence in 2022. This not only it reinforces the learning from the previous points of the importance of a pragmatic and inclusive center or center-left, but also of party structures that are more solid and stable than new individualistic adventures or incipient platforms.
5.- The right has a candidate, but no unity
In that same sense, the Democratic Center has managed to maintain a certain presence in Congress, although it has decreased compared to what it had: it is no longer the party with the greatest presence in the House and Senate. The departure of Álvaro Uribe from their lists has been noted. But they have been replaced by an even stronger party: the Conservative Party with two centuries of history and a decline that has never been fully realized. All of them will have to articulate a joint platform to compete for the presidency around Federico ‘Fico’ Gutiérrez, who dominated the Team for Colombia consultation much more clearly than the polls anticipated. This will help convince the extreme factions (disenchanted with the presidency of Iván Duque, originally sold as a moderate) and also the more traditional ones, but the unity is not given as it was in 2018, also due to the rupture itself of continuity in the results in the legislature.
6.- The power of women increases, with Francia Márquez at the head
The main rival of Gustavo Petro achieved 15% of the votes within the consultation of the Historical Pact. This is one way to see it. But the other, much more precise, is that an Afro woman who entered politics through peripheral peasant activism has managed to be the third most voted person in a day that brought millions of Colombians to the streets, surpassing men with a profile more than established as Sergio Fajardo or Alex Char, not to mention Camilo Romero, the ‘bouncer’ from the Alianza Verde who barely reached a third of the support obtained by Márquez. In parallel, the provisional calculations of the organization Artemisas (dedicated, among other objectives, to promoting the public representation of women) indicate that the presence in Congress has improved significantly: from 25 to 31 senators and from 31 to 48 representatives, around 30% of both chambers, historical record in the country. This, added to Márquez’s ability to capitalize on her dragging within the Petrista platform, draws a horizon of gradual but decisive expansion of the power of women in Colombian politics.
Conclusion: polarization or pluralism?
The strength shown by Petro and (to a lesser extent) by ‘Fico’, together with the centrist weakness, predict a polarized panorama both in its affective dimension (voting out of fear or hatred of the rival) and in the ideological one (voting for differentiated conviction) . But the survival of old parties (Liberal, Conservative), of the established center (Green, Polo) and the already habitual fragmentation of the legislature indicate that pluralism and negotiation continue to be the inevitable gateway through which the exercise of power in Colombia is built. .
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