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Elections in Colombia: a divided center clears the way for a presidential duel between left and right

Four months before the presidential elections in Colombia, the right and the left are heading for a new duel before the division of the center forces that precipitated the slam of the French-Colombian Íngrid Betancourt.

On Saturday, Betancourt moved away from the already battered Centro Esperanzaan alliance of moderates that will elect their candidate at the polls on March 13.

Twenty years after her kidnapping at the hands of the dissolved FARC guerrillas (2002-2008), the former congresswoman supported and then marginalized herself from that coalition claiming that it is complacent with “corruption”.

At the same time, the 60-year-old politician announced that she will run for the presidency on behalf of her small Oxygen Green party.


Betancourt’s departure from the coalition “is another episode of the many that have occurred” in the center that denote “some fragility, some internal injuries, little coordination and coherence,” Yann Basset, professor of Political Science at the Universidad del Rosario, told AFP.

“With the aggravating circumstance that this time the coalition’s commitment to the fight against corruption and bad political practices, which are precisely its main flags, is being questioned,” he adds.

A march in favor of Gustavo Petro, in Bogotá. AFP Photo

In the 2018 elections, the right and the left went to the second round defeating a very divided center.

“The center is in a very precarious situation and is even more disjointed than four years ago (…) it is a very heterogeneous coalition, it is very unclear what they represent“, explained Felipe Botero, professor of Political Science at the Universidad de Los Andes.

Colombia is preparing for an intense electoral calendar. Legislative will be held on March 13 on a par with the partisan elections from which the candidates to succeed the conservative president Iván Duque will emerge, who by law will not be able to stand for re-election.

The first round will be held on May 29. If no candidate obtains more than 50% of the votes, there will be a ballot on June 19.

better left

The leftist and former guerrilla Gustavo Petro is leading in the polls in a country historically governed by the right.

“The division of the center favors Petro who has done a good job” in the campaign, while “the right has the problem that the presidency (of Duque) pulls them down,” says analyst Botero.

With popularity in red, Duke could hardly transfer support to Óscar Iván Zuluagacandidate of the Democratic Center, the ruling right-wing party founded by former President Álvaro Uribe.

The exmandatario is the most influential politician of this century and although he is entangled with justice for a case of witness tampering, no one considers him politically dead.

Iván Duque has a very bad image and it is difficult for his support to add votes.  Photo Bloomberg

Iván Duque has a very bad image and it is difficult for his support to add votes. Photo Bloomberg

Uribe could endorse his support for one of the other candidates who, except for Petro, are to a greater or lesser degree similar to his ideas in case Zuluaga – who already lost in the 2014 ballot – fails at the polls.

Added to this is the “paradox of the center”Bassett points out. “Most Colombians define themselves as central (…) But curiously, central candidates do not do very well in the polls,” she adds.

The conflict that for more than half a century faced guerrillas, paramilitaries, drug traffickers and state agents was at the center of the Colombian electoral debate.

After the signing of the peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2016, New concerns surfaced among voters.

The crisis caused by the pandemic stripped one of the most unequal countries in the world. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets last year in rejection of the government and to demand a more supportive State in the face of the increase in poverty, which in 2020 hit 42.5% of the 50 million inhabitants, according to available statistics.

In this context, a center united around a single candidate was emerging as an alternative in a country polarized since the peace pact.

Although Betancourt is relegated in the polls, her abrupt departure deprived that tendency of “a female candidate who in 1998 had been the most voted for Congress” and what he meant by “her kidnapping and seeking reconciliation”said Patricia Muñoz, professor of Political Science at Javerina University.

However, “what the center has lacked is not different from what the country lacks: capacity for dialogue, consensus,” he pointed out.

AFP Agency



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