Bogotá’s Peñalosa faces recall of mayoral mandate

The Colombian Constitution, under Article 103, grants citizens the right to “recall” an elected official from office. For the so-called “revocatoria” to have binding powers, enough signatures must be collected before a specific date.

On January 2, several citizen’s groups in Bogotá decided it was time to try and oust current city mayor Enrique Peñalosa from office, and just one year after being sworn into the second-highest office in the land with a clear majority. But as Peñalosa assumes the second year of a second term as Mayor of Bogotá (Peñalosa was elected from 1998-2000), his approval ratings, according to the pollsters Bogotá Cómo Vamos, has fallen to a mere 22% – more than ten points below previous mayor Gustavo Petro (32%) after his first year in the Liévano Palace.

For the “recall” to have effect 271,818 signatures must be collected before the end of January and handed-over the district’s Registrar Office. The signatures must total at least 30% of the votes the mayor received at the ballot during the elections of 2015 and which the independent candidate won with 906.058 votes (33.18%), flowed by Liberal candidate Rafael Pardo 778.764 (28.52%), left-wing Clara López 499.598 (18.29%) and Francisco Santos 327.288 (11.99%).

But this is not the first time Peñalosa has faced a recall.

In February 1999, the citizen’s movement Revocatoria del Mandato del alcalde Peñalosa by former councilor Bruno Díaz petitioned the registrar to collect signatures because, according to him, Peñalosa did not follow through on the administration’s original plan of government. Díaz’s petition was dismissed as majority of the 40% of the signatures collected did not count as registered voters during the mayoral elections of 1997.

Even though Peñalosa won the 2015 elections on a wave of discontent after twelve years of the Polo’s left-wing administrations, this discontent hasn’t subsided.  The mayor claims that during his first twelve months in office there have been tangible results and improvements to our capital, such as a reduction in street crime and the shutting down of one of the city’s most notorious drug dens “El Bronx.”

The administration also claims it has embarked on an ambitious program to beautify derelict neighbourhoods, recuperate public space, illuminate parks and install more security CCTV cameras. One of Peñalosa’s main policy objectives is to recover mobility by paving and maintaining roads, as well as other large infrastructure projects such the ALO grid and improvements to the public Transmilenio network. “Two more years of Petro and this city would have collapsed,” remarked Peñalosa recently of his predecessor’s embattled administration.

And even though for many Bogotanos, Peñalosa’s first twelve months have hardly been memorable, the recall campaign has been far from visible and interpreted by opinion commentators in the national press as a politically-motivated ploy by Progresistas (political party founded by Gustavo Petro) to sabotage a government that inherited a mayoralty in shambles.

The two main citizen’s movements for the recall – Revoquemos a Peñalosa and Unidos Revocamos a Peñalosa – have received support from various workers groups, trade union organizations and the Communist Party of Colombia. Should the recall prosper, Peñalosa will have to resign by the end of March. Should the recall fail, the Constitution states that there can be no second petition, guaranteeing the current mayor complete his next three years in office.