In 2004, only 11% of Colombian citizens called themselves leftist (excluding the center-left). A decade and a half later, that figure has multiplied to 28%. The excellent result of the Historical Pact in the legislative elections on Sunday and of its leader Gustavo Petro in the consultation to define the presidential candidate is only the culmination of this process, perhaps the most important in the political sociology of Colombia so far this century. . Even more so than the rise and fall of Uribismo: the Democratic Center has lost legislative leadership due to the double absence of Álvaro Uribe as head of the poster and of its own candidate in the right-wing inter-party consultation. His party was even surpassed in votes by the Conservative Party, which has been in decline for decades and has not yet been consolidated. In the presidential race, the former mayor of Medellín ‘Fico’ Gutiérrez won the presidential candidacy in the right-wing coalition with a discourse firmly anchored in classic conservative values (family and security).
The electoral results have put a brake, at least momentarily, on the third great trend in Colombian politics during this century: the consolidation of a powerful political center based on positions defended by the urban intellectual elite. A phenomenon that began with the failed attempt of the mathematician Antanas Mockus to reach the presidency in 2010, and that has in the mathematician Sergio Fajardo the (for now, weakened) heir to him.
The polarization resulting from this weakening of the center while the left is empowered and the right is realigned is quite similar to that of the rest of the countries in the region. Colombia is thus going from being a Latin American exception (the longest-running democracy in Latin America, but also one of the most restrictive) to one more in the regional norm.
At both ideological extremes, the populist impulse fights with the ideological prototype: at the heart of Petrism is the authoritarian side, as well as the progressive and inclusive one, in constant tension both in the speeches of its leader and in the configuration of the platform that has led to (until now) electoral success. And the right still has to decide if ‘Fico’ is a reasonable alternative after the disappointment of the presidency of Iván Duque, a moderate in his initial presentation now attacked by the authoritarian national-populist right (headed by CD senator María Fernanda Cabal) who, presumably, will keep the former mayor of Medellin under analysis until he achieves a commitment to his minimum ‘Bolsonarist’ program.
The center, meanwhile, has its own tension: the failure of the most urban and elitist proposals (not only in this election, but since 2010) contrasts with the solidity shown by the more pragmatic and inclusive centers. Those who understand that in a polarized environment complaining about polarization is not particularly fruitful: it is like complaining about the rain in the middle of a storm. Polarization in Colombia, as in any other place, undoubtedly has a harmful dimension, focused on hatred or fear of the rival (“affective”, it is called in political science). But it also has another substantive, ideological component: simply, the starting positions, the interests, the preferences of the citizens are divided in the country. This is not only not bad, but it can be argued that it is a good thing that the institutionalized political system is finally picking up the gaps that cross the country’s society. Closing the analogy, the job of the virtuous politician is not to complain about the rain, but to channel it so that it does not destroy everything in its path, but rather so that it flows, waters and feeds the land below it. If the center, or the many centers that populate this increasingly narrow space in Colombia, want to be fruitful and useful for the country, they must begin by opening new channels to frustrated citizens.
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