Colombians to elect presidential frontrunners in key vote Sunday

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The final roster of the 2022 presidential elections will be decided on Sunday, March 13, as Colombians head to the polls to vote for party candidates and congressional representatives.

As candidates wrapped-up their public campaigns a week before voting day, and in accordance with electoral procedure, Colombians can vote for a specific candidate within three coalitions that are contesting the first round of the presidential race.

The vote on Sunday will give Colombians the opportunity to see if the political compass will stay the course with an incoming right-wing or conservative government, shift toward the center or center-left, or turn historically to the left, following in the path of the most recently elected socialist government in Latin America, Chile.

The results of Sunday’s vote will also gauge how many votes the current frontrunner of these elections, Gustavo Petro, commands and who could be his strongest political rival. And this, without taking into account alliances between candidates from other parties who look to upset the progressive candidate’s lead.

The most cohesive coalition – Equipo Colombia – represents the Conservative Party’s David Barguil, Federico “Fico” Gutiérrez of Creemos Colombia, Enrique Peñalosa of U Party, Alex Char of Cambio Radical and Aydee Lizarazo of Mira.

From these five candidates running under the movement Equipo Colombia (Team Colombia), the former Mayor of Medellín Federico Gutiérrez will most likely top the votes and consolidate himself as the candidate to challenge Petro’s so far unchallenged, pre-election, supremacy.

When Gutiérrez ran for mayor of Colombia’s second largest city, Medellín, among his close political allies was the governor of Antioquia, Sergio Fajardo. Fajardo’s support, as well as that of former President Álvaro Uribe helped Gutiérrez win the popular vote in 2015. Gutiérrez will most likely face Fajardo again, this time as presidential candidates, should Fajardo be named leader of the center-left coalition Center Hope.

The party faithful of Centro Democrático could turn out en masse on Sunday to maintain the right-wing majority in Congress, and this would give impetus to the campaign of CD’s sole presidential candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga.

Independents Ingrid Betancourt (Oxygen Green Party), and Rodolfo Hérnandez of Governor’s Anticorruption League – and another former mayor who in the same election year as Gutiérrez won in Bucaramanga – need to expand their bases to convince voters that they “can go it alone.” Betancourt has pledged to run a campaign “without machinery and adhesion of political corruption.” The former FARC hostage recently called on the Greens to abstain from voting in Sunday’s Consultation, and move seen to block the advance of her former coalition partner, economist Alejandro Gaviria.

New Liberal candidate Juan Manuel Galán hopes to take the lead in the Center Hope coalition and become the moderate political voice in this highly polarized and contested election.

Should the two independents join forces, the question remains: “who will lead the anti-corruption movement? Ingrid or Rodolfo? Hernández has already appointed his running companion, the vice rector of UniMinuto University Marelen Castillo. As someone without political experience to hold the office of vice-President, the 76-year-old Hernández appears to have miscalculated again with Castillo, a month after journalist Paola Ochoa accepted the nomination, then turned it down.

Hernández’s impetuous moves – no other candidate has announced a formula – shows lack of clarity and political savvy, ahead of Sunday’s electoral equivalent to a litmus test.

Gustavo Petro of Colombia Humana party, and leader of the Pacto Histórico coalition, needs at least 4.8 million votes to match the number he won in the first electoral round of the 2018 presidential election. President Iván Duque surpassed Petro by almost 2.6 million votes, and for the decisive final vote on June 17, that same year, was elected President by a smaller margin of 2.3 million votes. Should Petro maintain the same momentum as four years ago, anything less than 4 million votes will resound among the electorate that support for his socialist agenda is dwindling, and pivotal given that over the next two months, almost every alliance that could be forged will have but one objective: “anyone but Petro.”