Petro, Duque To Be Left and Right Coalition Candidates in Colombian Presidential Race; Congress Split Across Five Leading Parties
The expected candidate won by a landslide in both the right- and left-leaning primaries today to decide who would represent their respective political coalitions in Colombia’s upcoming presidential election in May.
At press time, with more than 98% of the primary ballots counted, leftist Gustavo Petro had received nearly 85% of the votes to represent his side over rival Carlos Caicedo. On the right, conservative Iván Duque had taken more than two-thirds of the votes to beat out challengers Martha Lucía Ramírez (26%) and Alejandro Ordoñez (6%).
Photo: Gustavo Petro and Ivan Duque, the left and right coalition candidates in the 2018 presidential election in Colombia. (Credit: Prensa de Bogotá / Leoboud)
While Petro’s support was larger in percentage terms on his side of the ledger, Duque gained much more support in terms of raw voting totals due to the right’s primary having much higher turnout.
Potentially also running against several non-coalition party candidates — such as former Medellín mayor Sergio Fajardo, former vice president Germán Vargas Lleras, and lead peace process negotiator Humberto de la Calle — these two coalition leaders now become the likely favorites in the May 27 election to replace outgoing two-term President Juan Manuel Santos. (If, as expected, no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes, a second-round run-off election between the top two vote-getters will take place on June 17.)
But the overwhelming margins did not ease the minds of the many Colombians on both sides who suspected impropriety when their local voting sites reportedly ran out of primary ballots to fill out. The outcry was substantial on social media, with at least one video going viral that showed angry voters verbally confronting the location’s elections officials.
To many, it represented yet another hint of manipulation in an election cycle that has seen the issue of corruption move to the forefront following the near-constant revelation of issues like the unprecedented upheaval of the region-wide Odebrecht scandal, a sweeping criminal investigation that has implicated multiple former Supreme Court justices, among other politicians, and various other private sector crimes and instances of graft from public officials.
According to Colombia Reports, the governmental National Register chalked up the problem to a clerical printing error and authorized the stations to photocopy remaining blank ballots on site. The agency refused, however, to extend voting hours to account for the lost time and confusion created in some areas by the lack of ballots.
The new composition of the Colombian Congress — both its Senate and Chamber of Representatives — was also voted upon today in what was the kickoff of an election season that will overhaul both the legislative and executive branches in Colombia for the next four years. In all, today’s voting will define the selection of 102 members of the Senate and 166 members of the Chamber.
There were not widespread reports of ballot shortages in the congressional elections throughout the day.
Late in the evening, with nearly 90% of the votes tallied, the Democratic Center (Centro Democrático) party, which has come to be synonymous with former president Álvaro Uribe, led the national voting for Senate. Support is widely fragmented, however, with the top five parties all receiving between 19% and 14% of the recorded votes.
While Democratic Center leads thus far with roughly 19%, it is followed closely by Radical Change (Cambio Radical) at 16%, and three parties that each have received 14% of the votes: the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal), Conservative Party (Partido Conservador), and Party of the U (Partido de la U).
In the lower house, the Liberal Party had a slight edge over the other leaders to take the most seats. Not far behind were Democratic Center and Radical Change followed by Party of the U and the Conservative Party.
The larger number of congress members now on the right side of the aisle, particularly the gains by the Uribe-minded Democratic Center, means that there likely will be more criticism and pressure looming this year for the peace accord with FARC signed in late 2016, the signature work of eight years in office by Party of the U head Santos.
While court rulings could help protect the accord to a degree, aspects of the roughly 300-page document have already been slow to develop under a more-welcoming legislative branch, while Uribe and some others on the far right have pledged to block the implementation of many provisions of the deal. Such tensions would expect to be greater if the right-leaning legislative wave portends a Duque victory in the presidential election.
Today’s election also marked the first to include candidates from the newly created political party of the former FARC guerrilla faction. Though it received paltry support — less than 0.5% in both the Senate and the Chamber — the 2016 peace accord with the government that led to the demobilization of the armed group guarantees the party of FARC to receive five seats in each house.
FARC will run no candidate in May’s presidential election. Former top commander Rodrigo Londoño, aka Timochenko, had launched a campaign earlier this year but he recently called off his plan to run after undergoing heart surgery.