Roberto Ortiz and Alejandro Éder, two former mayoral hopefuls, will be the two favorites facing off against each other — once again — on October 29 in an election that will decide the next mayor of Cali.
Ortiz, a businessman and owner of a betting firm called El Chontico, which is also the nickname everyone knows him by, topped the latest Invamer poll by a sizable margin at 33.6%.
He has now run three times to become mayor of Colombia’s third-largest city (previously in 2015 and 2019), and will be looking to finally make that quest as he attempts to hold off stiff competition from Éder, who received support from nearly 23.1% of expected voters in the same poll, and the other candidates.
In addition to selecting a mayor of this city of 2.3 million people, voters throughout the Valle del Cauca department and its capital Cali will be heading to the ballot to choose a new governor and select the winners from among 240 candidates running for the city council.
Third Time’s a Charm for Roberto Ortiz?
When Roberto Ortiz first ran to become mayor of the Valle del Cauca capital in 2015, he lost to Maurice Armitage. When he ran again in 2019, he was beaten by current Mayor Jorge Iván Ospina, although he did manage to increase his vote total from around 176,000 votes the first time to almost 200,000 votes on his second attempt.
If the results hold from the latest Invamer poll — and all those carried out from March to August by the firm as well as JPG, the National Center of Consulting (CNC) — he will clear the hurdle this time and win the election.
“El Chontico,” who was born in the department of Tolima, arrived in Cali capital 40 years ago and began to build his company before engaging in significant social work in low-income eastern sectors of the city before entering politics and serving as a congress member (2010-2018) and a municipal councilman (2020–2023).
For this election, he has not sought the support of any established political party. While, in 2015, he was with the Liberal Party, this time he decided to run under his own political party, Firme por Cali.
Alejandro Éder’s Rise in the Polls
Next in the polls is Alejandro Éder, who recorded 23.1% of the support from those intending to vote in the Invamer poll — a significant jump from the firm’s August 30 poll that had him at just 16%.
The son of a prestigious cane industrialist in Valle del Cauca and graduate of Columbia University in New York, he has dedicated himself to the issues of reintegration of combatants resulting from the Colombian peace process.
During the term of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, between 2007 and 2010, he was a political adviser and manager of the Cooperation and International Relations Unit of the High Council for Peace and Reintegration.
He then received a 2010 appointment from former President Juan Manuel Santos to be High Presidential Advisor for the Social and Economic Reintegration of Armed People and Groups, which later, in November 2011, became the Colombian Agency for Reintegration.
He has worked in the private sector as well. In 2015, he became the executive director of ProPacífico, a public-private organization dedicated to promoting high-impact projects for the integral development of Valle del Cauca and the Pacific region, where he lasted three years and left the position to run for mayor of Cali in 2019.
Despite the fact that, officially before the National Registry, he registered his candidacy with signatures for the citizen movement Revivamos Cali — as it appears on the voting card — the publication La Silla Vaciá reported that Éder has opened the doors to political backing from a diverse group including support from the parties Conservador, Cambio Radical, Colombia Justa Libres, Nuevo Liberalismo and Colombia Renaciente.
His previous attempt to become mayor in 2019 came up short, finishing third with 133,000. But he has jumped in the polls of late, and now has the backing of Diana Rojas, who dropped out of the race recently despite carrying 13.1% in the latest Invamer poll. Éder is also now getting campaign support from two other candidates who ended their campaigns to work for him, Juanita Cataño and Catalina Ortiz.
Adding even more momentum, the party supporters of Dignidad & Compromiso, the party created by former presidential candidate Sergio Fajardo and ex-senator Jorge Robledo, are now backing him. And even without being the official candidate of former President Álvaro Uribe’s political collective, the Centro Democrático Party, several of its leaders have expressed their support for him.
Other Contenders in the Cali Election 2023
Beyond Ortiz and Éder, none of the other candidates reached double digits in the latest poll.
Danis Rentería carried 7.1% of intention to vote in September as the representative of Pacto Historico, the political coalition that backed current Colombian President Gustavo Petro when he received more than 657,00 votes in Cali.
Next comes Miyerlandi Torres, former health secretary of the current Mayor Jorge Iván Ospina, at 6.8%.
The rest of the candidates belong to little-known political parties Edison Huérfano (4.2%), voto en blanco (3.7%), Wilfredo Pardo (3.2%), Deninson Mendoza (2.7%), Wilson Ruiz (1.8%), and Heriberto Escobar (0.8%).
Among those with little support in the polls, Deninson Mendoza, on behalf of the Independientes party, stands out to some degree. Mendoza worked closely with now-former Medellín Mayor Daniel Quintero, and because of that, many people identify him as part of Quintero’s political project.
Concerns Remain About Transparency and Fair Elections in Cali
Colombia’s Mission of Electoral Observation (MOE), a platform of civil organization that promotes fair elections and civic rights, has identified a risk of violence tied to elections and atypical electoral behavior that it has registered during the past three years.
Alejandro Sánchez, the Valle del Cauca coordinator of the MOE, told Finance Colombia that the election watchdog anticipated again seeing cases such as those in the past in some city sectors where they found a large number of unexplained null votes and unmarked voting cards.
Monitoring has long been complicated in the city. In the last few months, at various points, there were 34 political parties and 14 groups collecting signatures to support candidates, Sanchez noted.
“It is a very high number to expect that citizens can make judicious exercises of control and comparison between government programs, especially in the midst of so much false information circulating on social media,” he told Finance Colombia.
He encourages anyone who encounters irregularities in the election process to inform the MOE through the website Pilasconelvoto.com.
Large Challenges Await Whoever Wins the Election in Cali
Among many challenges, the next mayor will have to confront ongoing insecurity problems. Cali’s location makes it a strategic point for structures outside the law to plan criminal activities such as drug trafficking.
Mexican criminal bands and the Venezuelan “Aragua Train,” for example, are active in the city, as highlighted by Luis Andrés Fajardo, deputy national defensor del pueblo, to the newspaper El País, and 634 murders were recorded in the city from From January 1 to August 14 — 30 more than in the same period of 2022, according to Cali Cómo Vamos.
Even in 2022, with 982 total murders and a homicide rate of 42 per 100,000 inhabitants, per Infobae, Cali was the most dangerous city in Colombia.