OE Watch Commentary: Legislative elections were held in Colombia on 10 March and as the accompanying excerpted articles show, the right did better than the left. The legislative elections precede the presidential elections and constitute a final, definitive survey of national opinion regarding the array of political parties. It is considered definitive in the sense that the numbers of seats in the Senate and Congress are set. Because the incoming president will have to form a legislative coalition to get anything passed, voters now have an idea of which presidential candidates have a real hope of forming such a coalition. Many individual voters will still vote their first preferences; however, some will select a candidate who they consider close enough to their way of thinking but who can actually effect the necessary alliances. Iván Duque, who will be the rightist coalition’s candidate in the first presidential round, earned more votes (43 percent of the total) in the parliamentary elections than did the whole leftist coalition. Marta Lucía Ramirez, who came in second to Duque on the right, herself won a million and a half votes. Those two will form a single ticket for the presidential contest. Given the recent results, a President Duque would appear to have the easiest path to creating a workable legislative block. Of course, things can change between now and the first round on 27 May, but at this point it seems likely that the Duque/Ramirez ticket will win over fifty percent of the vote in the first round, ending the race early (there will be a second round only if no candidate wins an absolute majority).
This prognostic seems also to be what the left sees, given that in his speech after the results came in, leftist leader Gustavo Petro asserted that the numbers were there to take things to the second round, which seems to mean he wishes the numbers were there. Right now they are not. The FARC, for the first time running candidates as a legal political party, got less than one percent of the vote, not enough to earn a legislative seat. This reflects a continued aversion in Colombia for the brand. (Note, however, that because of the FARC-government power sharing agreement, the FARC still gets five seats in the house and five in the Senate, as many as a minor party that earned ten times as many votes). Nevertheless, candidate Gustavo Petro, who for practical purposes may be as leftist as any of the official FARC candidates, won 30 percent of the vote. Candidate Iván Duque sounded far more confident afterwards, however, appealing in his speech to those dissatisfied with the FARC-government agreement by deriding the impunity extended to FARC leaders and the clientelism of which the current president has been accused. What does all this mean for the future of Colombia’s internal political warfare? It is too early to make a confident guess, but a less-than-confident guess sees a coming Duque-led administration making few additional concessions to the Bolivarians. That would mean, for instance, that the ELN will not likely get a power-sharing deal like the FARC did, and neither Cuba nor Venezuela will see much diplomatic support coming out of Bogotá. End OE Watch Commentary (Demarest)
Duque:“…the presidential candidate [Duque] made it clear that among his principle propositions was avoiding ‘that to our country come the temptations of popular authoritarianism that ruined Venezuela.’… He added that the moment had arrived to ‘turn the page on impunity, clientelism and tax strangulation…”
Petro: “The numbers are there to move on to the second round.”