Santiago José Castro Agudelo is Chancellor of the Universidad La Gran Colombia
Last Sunday, March the 11th, the Colombians went to the polls to elect representatives of the Chamber and senators, who will exercise their functions as of July the 20th. The former are elected in territorial constituencies at least two from each Department and 18 from the Capital District. Similarly, two representatives were elected for different cultural reasons, one for indigenous communities and one for Colombians abroad. In the case of the Senate, 100 senators were elected from national constituencies and two senators from special constituencies, including national constituencies, representing indigenous communities.
To the aforementioned, 12 additional seats should be added, since the former FARC guerrilla group will have five representatives in the Chamber and five senators; and the formula that comes second in the Presidential election will enter Congress with the candidate for President as Senator and the candidate for Vice-President as representative of the Chamber.
On the same day, two consultations were held to select candidates for the Presidency. On the one hand, the so-called "Consultation for Colombia", in which Ivan Duque, candidate of Centro Democrático, Marta Lucia Ramirez, of the movement "Por una Colombia honesta y fuerte" (For an honest and strong Colombia), and Alejandro Ordoñez, of the movement "La Patria de Pie" (The Motherland Standing), faced off against each other. On the other hand, Gustavo Petro, candidate of the "Colombia Humana" (Humane Colombia) movement; and Carlos Caicedo, of the "Fuerza Ciudadana" (Citizen Force) movement.
In 2017, Partido Liberal had already held a consultation to choose its presidential candidate between former Minister Juan Fernando Cristo and former Vice President Humberto de la Calle. Although the latter was the winner, the turnout was unsatisfactory, with less than one million votes. In the case of the consultations on 11th March, the two received nearly 9.7 million votes, something historic for Colombian democracy and which has already brought out two candidates, one close to the right and the other to the left: Ivan Duque and Gustavo Petro.
However, before falling into the triumphalism’s that are sure to lead to failure, it is necessary to pause and make some considerations that will allow us to have a sharper picture of the electoral landscape, before the first presidential round that will take place on Sunday, 27th May.
The Forces in Congress
The first political force in Congress will be the Partido Centro Democrático with 19 senators and 32 Chamber representatives. This party, whose undisputed leader is former President Álvaro Uribe, obtained just over four million votes with its candidate for President in the Grand Consultation for Colombia, but in the Senate election it obtained nearly 2.5 million votes. This implies that, if an alliance with other parties is not established as soon as possible, he could face serious problems in gaining the Presidency in the first round and this would leave Ivan Duque's candidacy in serious trouble to confront all the political forces opposed to Uribe in the second round. It already happened in 2014, when Oscar Iván Zuluaga, the first-round winner, lost against the Santos-Vargas Lleras option, which received the support of the other political forces, with the exception of Polo Democrático as a party, although some of its leaders did. It should be noted that at the time Centro Democrático made strong documented allegations of fraud.
The second political force in Congress is Partido Liberal, with 14 senators and 35 representatives in the Chamber. Despite having a candidate for the presidency who is not yet well ranked in the polls, he holds a vote of close to two million votes nationally and has demonstrated throughout history, as has Partido Conservador, that he knows how to navigate to maintain his electoral flow.
Partido Liberal is undoubtedly the third political force in Colombia: Cambio Radical. Party whose leader is the current presidential candidate and former vice president of the Santos Government, Germán Vargas Lleras, who is anything but an outsider and was born and grew up among the most difficult political agreements as the grandson of Carlos Lleras Restrepo, Partido Liberal President of Colombia between 1966 and 1970. Vargas Lleras has been municipal councillor, senator for several terms, President of Congress, Minister of the Interior and Justice and Minister of Chamber. He is very clear about how political alliances are made and the kind of commitments they involve.
On the other hand, close to Álvaro Uribe during his eight years in office, but at the same time a fundamental ally of Santos in the coalition of National Unity, Partido Conservador has lost the strength it awoke between 2006 and 2014, when there was talk of a "conservative awakening", maintaining close to 20 senators and 30 representatives in the Chamber, that is, 20% of Congress. From the next legislature onwards, it will have just 15 senators and 21 representatives in the Chamber. However, the two million votes it holds at the national level make it, as is set by the tradition, a key political force that can tip the balance.
The Partido Social de la Unidad Nacional, better known as Partido de la U, in which President Juan Manuel Santos is a member, was undoubtedly the biggest loser on Sunday, the 11th of March, losing seven senators. However, it won a vote of nearly 1.8 million votes, carrying the burden of a Government that is not trusted by the bulk of public opinion and whose unfavourable image is the worst in history, at least since opinion polls and surveys have been conducted in the country.
In the case of the "Coalición Colombia" led by Sergio Fajardo as a candidate for President, of which Partido Alianza Verde and Polo Democrático are part, it obtained nearly two million votes at the national level, 15 senators and 11 representatives in the Chamber. Undoubtedly, the figure of Antanas Mockus, ex-mayor of Bogotá and former presidential candidate in 2010, as head of the list for the Senate of Alianza verde was a key factor, but he is not a candidate who endorses votes, so in May it will be at another price.
The first lap
This being so, although Duque is starting the rally with four million votes and the support of what will be the first political force in Congress, the four million votes that the U and Conservative parties have to call his attention and reach the necessary agreements before the first round. It would be the only way to weaken Vargas Lleras' candidacy and prevent his transition to the second round, in order to avoid the same result as in 2014, that is to say, that all the parties that currently accompany the current Government commit themselves to the second round and defeat Uribe's candidate once again.
In the case of Gustavo Petro, it is difficult to see how with only four elected senators, not in office, he will be able to confront the other candidates close to his left proposal, such as Humberto de la Calle and his Partido Liberal or Sergio Fajardo and his "Coalición Colombia". Petro got about three million votes in the March 11th referendum, but without another strong candidate competing with him. That result is not in sight for 27th May, although in a democracy anything can happen.
The great winner of the March 11th Congressional elections is unquestionably Germán Vargas Lleras, who has doubled the number of votes his party obtained, as well as the number of congressmen. It is not ruled out that many factions related to his party have accompanied Duque in the consultation, but in the first round they will return to the path of their candidate. Marta Lucia Ramirez, now Ivan Duque's vice president, has the support of the conservative grassroots, but she needs the nominee to be close to them, as well as his closest, clearly liberal environment.
If Cambio Radical manages to consolidate an agreement with the Conservatives and Partido de la U, they will start the race on May 27th with at least 5.5 million votes, that is, in a better position than Ivan Duque. However, if the great alliance between Centro Democrático and Partido Conservador, whose antecedent is the 2002 Presidential election, when Álvaro Uribe won in the first round, were to be achieved, a victory would be inevitable. That is the way things are, once again the party which will determine the election is Partido Conservador, with all its internal upheavals. Uribe and Duque should be focusing their efforts on concretizing the alliance with the Partido Conservador and with conservatism in general. Otherwise, Vargas Lleras may end up ahead and things cannot go as expected after the result of the "Grand Consultation for Colombia".
Translation: David Alonso Galera