April 2022

By Julieta Gomez

The political polarization we are experiencing worldwide is prominently on display in Latin America with the recent presidential elections. Colombia, unfortunately, has not been the exception. The congressional elections in March demonstrated the strength the left continues to build, the administration's negative impact on the right wing, and the voters' lack of confidence in a center candidate.

The results of the legislative elections, as well as the inter-party primaries for the presidential candidates of the center, right, and left, elucidated the connection of some parties and candidates, and the disconnection of others, with the Colombian voters. In the primary of the Pacto Histórico (Historical Pact), the leftist coalition, Gustavo Petro was elected as a candidate and chose Francia Marquez, the woman who received the second highest number of votes, as his running mate. On the right, the primary of the Equipo por Colombia (Team for Colombia) was won by Federico Gutiérrez, the former mayor of Medellín, who appointed Rodrigo Lara Sánchez as his running-mate. Lara Sánchez is a doctor and former mayor of the city of Neiva, a small city on the eastern branch of the Colombian Andes. Finally, Sergio Fajardo, who named former minister Luis Gilberto Murillo as his vice-presidential formula, was the winner of the Centro Esperanza Coalition's primary. Murillo is a well-regarded former Minister of the Environment and former Governor of the Chocó, a municipality with a wealth of natural resources but very poor socioeconomic conditions located on the Pacific coast. These three candidates are the strongest in consideration, and the next president of Colombia will likely be one of them.

As for the legislative elections, no party won an absolute majority in the Senate or the House of Representatives. However, the Pacto Histórico did manage to elect the largest number of Senators and Representatives in a single coalition, showing that the movement is gaining traction with voters. Ironically, this could end up hurting Gustavo Petro's chances for the presidency, as groups more inclined to the right have sown fear in voters after seeing Pacto Histórico’s increased representation in Congress, leading to a late surge in popularity for the other two candidates.

Ultimately, the legislative elections that were expected to clarify expectations for the presidential elections in May managed to make the race more confusing. All the front runners chose vice-presidential candidates that represent minorities in a final attempt to connect with the bases in their respective corners of the political spectrum. The coming weeks will show great uncertainty and heavy campaigning as the candidates continue to look for ways to appeal to undecided voters. The most likely scenario, in any case, is that the second round will see another polarized election of right vs left.