Former Finance Minister Óscar Iván Zuluaga (Pennsylvania, Caldas, 62 years old) is already the official candidate of the Democratic Center, the government party founded by former president Álvaro Uribe, in the 2022 elections for the Presidency of Colombia. That consisted of several polls, the militants of the group of President Iván Duque opted for Zuluaga over Senator María Fernanda Cabal, the representative of the most radical wing of Uribismo who enjoys popularity among its bases. In the end, it will be Zuluaga who will have, at least formally, Uribe’s support in his aspiration to reach the House of Nariño, as Duque had four years ago.
The new candidate thanked the Colombians “despite their tiredness of politics, they will never tire of democracy and freedom,” in a short speech of about 10 minutes from the party’s headquarters in downtown Bogotá. Zuluaga, who promises to embody the 2.0 democratic security proposal, which includes the downward heavy-handed flags of Uribe, his political mentor, appeared alongside his competitors for the candidacy, Cabal itself, former Governor Alirio Barrera, Senator Paloma Valencia and former Vice Minister Rafael Nieto. Without detailing the percentages, the party explained that two polling firms –Yanhaas and the National Consulting Center– conducted 4,200 surveys throughout the country, and after weighing the data, the winner as the “only” candidate was Zuluaga.
In addition to Uribe’s finance minister, Zuluaga has been a senator, councilor and mayor of his native Pennsylvania, a population of 26,000 in the central department of Caldas, in the so-called coffee region. An economist from the Universidad Javeriana de Bogotá with studies in finance at the British University of Exeter, he was the most experienced of the applicants and has already been the presidential candidate of Uribismo in 2014, when he was about to frustrate the re-election of Juan Manuel Santos in a disputed second round.
Duque’s unpopularity, as well as the erosion of Uribe’s image, weigh heavily on the aspirations of the Democratic Center despite the fact that it is currently the party with the largest representation in the Senate. In the most recent measurement of the Invamer firm, 72% of those surveyed disapproved of the president’s work, historically low levels, and 68% had an unfavorable image of Uribe, the strongest opponent of the Santos government and the agreements of peace with the FARC. As for Zuluaga, only 17% of those consulted have a positive image, while 46% have a negative image, according to the same survey.
Addressing Duque, Zuluaga pointed out this Monday that “the story of his government’s achievements has not yet been told, and it is a pending task for all of us.” He also had words and thanks for Uribe. “It pains me that in our country, an ex-president who gave us hope is subjected to judicial arbitrariness, while criminals against humanity who he fought walk plump through the corridors of Congress,” he said in reference to the ex-guerrilla group. in the legislative, contemplated in the peace agreement. The former president, for his part, faces a delicate process for manipulating witnesses in the ordinary justice system, after having resigned his seat in the Senate to leave the orbit of the Supreme Court.
In a fragmented scenario, of different coalitions in the making, the now candidate of the Democratic Center will be able to seek alliances with other right-wing parties to try to wrest the leadership of the polls from the leftist Gustavo Petro, a rival in ideological antipodes. However, the electoral appeal of the Democratic Center has faded after three years of wear and tear during the Duque Administration. “Uribismo has gone from being the locomotive of the right during the last two decades to becoming its caboose by 2022,” pointed out an analysis by The Empty Chair, a political portal of reference.
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On Friday, the former mayors Federico Gutiérrez (Medellín) Enrique Peñalosa (Bogotá) and Álex Char (Barranquilla), together with the former governor of Valle del Cauca Dilian Francisca Toro, the Conservative Party candidate David Barguil and the former Minister of Finance Juan Carlos Echeverry they sealed a center-right coalition called Equipo Colombia, from which a candidate will emerge after a consultation in March. However, they have not mentioned in their plans the candidate of the Democratic Center, a party with more extreme ideas. “I believe in a coalition in favor of employment, security, education, health, youth, grandparents, women and equality, I do not believe in forming a coalition against anyone but for everyone,” he declared. Zuluaga without detailing his proposals.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.