The time for alliances has come to the Colombian electoral pre-campaign, which is heading towards a coalition pulse. The three large blocks in the making will define the still long road to the Casa de Nariño, the presidential palace. With the leftist Gustavo Petro as the rival to beat at the head of the so-called Historical Pact, the arrival of former Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria to the renamed Coalition Centro Esperanza, in which he will compete with Sergio Fajardo, begins to clear the picture for the first return of the presidential elections, on May 29, 2022. Team Colombia, still without a clear favorite and more heeled to the right, still doubts whether to open the door to Oscar Iván Zuluaga, the candidate of an Uribismo in low hours who wants to continue being Government despite the unpopularity of President Iván Duque.
With more than a dozen candidates for president only among these three great alliances, the elections for the Congress of March 13, which precede the general ones, will also be a kind of primaries to define the candidates and a thermometer of the strength of every coalition.
The rival to beat
In an atomized political landscape, Petro has long been the favorite in the polls, with more than 20% of the support in all measures. The former mayor of Bogotá, who lost four years ago in the second round to Duque, has forged the Historical Pact to suit him, although he will formally compete with other pre-candidates such as those of Senator Roy Barreras and environmental leader Francia Márquez.
“It is the only consolidated candidacy in the polls and it is an advantage, because while the other coalitions are wearing thin in discussions and negotiations, Petro is campaigning, visiting towns,” says analyst Yann Basset. However, the leftist still generates a lot of resistance. “It has a low ceiling, as the pollsters say, and to go beyond this ceiling it needs to show proof of respectability,” says the professor of Political Science at the Universidad del Rosario. That is why he has integrated into his coalition several characters from traditional politics, outside the sectors of the left, and even an evangelical pastor opposed to progressive causes. “It is a necessity but at the same time it brings problems before public opinion, which has questioned the vocation of renewal that this coalition has. He is in danger of losing his way and his identity ”, adds the academic.
In the most recent example, the Historical Pact has approached Luis Pérez this week, a questioned former governor of Antioquia who has praised former president Álvaro Uribe, a champion of the right, and has various questions about a military operation that was presented. during his tenure in Medellín, a very difficult record for leftist voters to digest. Criticisms have rained down on him from different sectors, including his own militants. “The Historical Pact is between different ones, if not, it is not Pact”, defended Petro in his social networks by invoking an “exceptional moment of social forgiveness.”
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The potential of the “nini”
After overcoming months of disagreements, the Centro Esperanza Coalition is convinced that this is their moment. At the weekend’s so-called “conclave” there was finally white smoke. His greatest hopes are pinned on Sergio Fajardo, who has been the governor of Antioquia and mayor of Medellín, and Alejandro Gaviria, who resigned as rector of the Universidad de Los Andes to seek the presidency. They start as favorites to compete for the sole candidacy in the March consultation, while Juan Manuel Galán, Jorge Enrique Robledo, Carlos Amaya and Juan Fernando Cristo seek to surprise. The six will debate and campaign together, in a “fraternal and loyal” manner, without a “dirty war”, as agreed.
All invoke the unity of the center, well aware of the precedent of 2018. At that time, Fajardo did not want to be measured in a primary or managed to seal an agreement with Humberto de la Calle – at that time a candidate of the Liberal Party, today part of the Centro Esperanza Coalition. – and was left out of the second round by just 250,000 votes. “This voluntarism of not falling back into the mistakes of the past is quite strong, it is what allows that despite the differences, egos and others, this coalition has finally managed to get ahead,” says Basset. The center can court the so-called opinion vote, particularly from urban sectors, since many of its figures have had a career marked by anti-corruption discourse – at times anti-political. But those same trajectories, away from the parties, face the challenge of organizing and reaching the entire Colombian territory.
In a country that has been trapped in polarization for years, it represents enormous electoral potential, because “it collects from all this electorate who are the disillusioned by the Duque mandate, who are not going to continue voting for the Democratic Center. [el partido de Gobierno fundado por el expresidente Uribe] but he doesn’t want to vote for Petro either, ”says Eugénie Richard, professor and researcher at the Externado de Colombia University. “It is an option at both ends, which can summon those who are in the logic of what [Ni Uribe ni Petro]”.
A right with regional reach
On the right, the Democratic Center has already chosen its candidate, former Finance Minister Óscar Iván Zuluaga. Although right now it is the party with the highest representation in the Senate, the unpopularity of President Duque weighs heavily on Zuluaga’s aspiration – 72% of those surveyed disapprove of his work, according to Invamer’s measurement – and the wear and tear of the image of Uribe, the most staunch opponent of the peace accords. However, by choosing Zuluaga over Senator María Fernanda Cabal, representative of the most radical sectors, Uribismo keeps open the possibility of converging with other conservative candidates.
In the center-right, the call by former Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverry to build a “coalition of experience” has taken shape together with several leaders from different regions. That idea ended up absorbing the incipient alliance that was insinuated between the former mayors of the cities of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa; Medellín, Federico Gutiérrez; and Barranquilla, Alejandro Char. Together with the former governor of the department of Valle del Cauca, Dilian Francisca Toro, and the conservative party candidate, Senator David Barguil, they sealed an alliance that they called Equipo Colombia and from which a single candidate will emerge. After meeting on Monday at the Peñalosa residence in the Colombian capital, they failed to define the arrival of Zuluaga, which would place them more decisively to the right, although they did not rule it out either.
Analysts agree that any right-wing alliance needs the support of the Democratic Center, so that sooner or later it will end up agreeing on a mechanism to incorporate Zuluaga, both as a wagon rather than as a locomotive. The Colombia Team “brings together local and regional leaders, with great convening power in the region, which continues to be very important to win a presidential election, especially in the second round,” says Richard. “It is the ruling party that does not want to appear as ruling party, with a lot of organization behind it, a strong capacity linked to the entire territory, an implicit support from the outgoing administration, with significant funding because it easily reaches the country’s elites, but a coalition that finally it has the disadvantage of not having a candidate as striking as the others ”, sums up Basset.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.