Correction: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated Petro had 1.5m votes and not 2.5m.
Yesterday, Colombians went to the polls to vote in Congressional elections and two presidential primaries. For the conservatives, Centro Democratico’s Ivan Duque was the big winner of the night, as he racked up an impressive 4 million votes in the “Grand Consultation for Colombia” primary. “Coalition for Decency’s” Gustavo Petro received 2.5m votes to win the leftist primary.
Duque competed against former Defense Minister Marta Lucia Ramirez and former Attorney General Alejandro Ordonez to head a unified center-right ticket. He took an early and large lead, which he maintained throughout the course of the evening. He finished with just over 67% of the vote, while Ramirez won 25%, at just over 2.5 million, and Ordonez finished a distant third with 6%.
At a victory party in the north of Bogota, Duque took the stage flanked by ex-President Andres Pastrana, as well as former campaign rivals, and announced to raucous applause that Marta Lucia Ramirez would be his vice presidential candidate for the general election.
On the left, former Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro coasted to victory against former Santa Marta Mayor Carlos Caicedo, winning 85%, and over 2.8 million votes. Petro, however, lacks the party machinery that many other candidates enjoy and had a relatively weak lineup running in the Congressional elections.
Recent polling has placed Duque and Petro at the head of the pack. Each of the last three polls has both in the 18% to 24% range, as they battle other candidates in a crowded field that includes ex-Vice President German Vargas Lleras and former Medellin Mayor Sergio Fajardo.
In an encouraging sign for the Colombian right, which has felt marginalized following their perceived betrayal at the hands of Juan Manuel Santos, they nearly doubled the total turnout of their left-wing counterpart. The right-wing primary saw 5,960,612 Colombians cast a ballot, while the Petro/Caicedo primary clocked in at 3,364,309.
The election was marred by a shortage of ballots in many polling places, indicating the larger than anticipated turnout in the primary elections, but the problem was remedied by using photocopies of existing ballots.
Duque and Ramirez, who quickly presented a united front on the center-right, are likely to prove a formidable campaign team. Ramirez is widely respected, and political pundits have often noted her appeal to voters even outside of her traditional party base. Her impressive resume includes stints as Senator, Minister of Foreign Trade, Minister of Defense, and ambassador to France. She also finished a strong third in the last presidential election in 2014.
Should the Duque/Ramirez ticket win, Ramirez would be Colombia’s first female vice president, although Sergio Fajardo’s running mate Claudia Lopez is also running to make history.
Petro, on the other hand, has yet to define his vice presidential running mate, although it appears unlikely he will find a candidate with the credentials and electoral clout of Ramirez.
Petro is further disadvantaged because of the independent nature of his candidacy. While the Duque/Ramirez ticket now counts on the strong backing of the Centro Democratico and Conservative parties, Petro has seen the country’s center-left parties, including Alianza Verde and Polo Democratico, embrace the candidacy of his rival Sergio Fajardo.
Petro did field a slate of candidates for Congress, but as expected, they made a poor showing, with his “Coalition for Decency” candidates winning just 4 seats in the Senate, and 2 in the House.
Duque’s Centro Democratico party, on the other hand, had a strong showing, maintaining their position as the largest single party in the Senate, with 19 seats, and winning 32 seats in the House.
The Congressional election saw little changed, as a coalition of the center with center-right parties will continue to control the legislature. Juan Manuel Santos’s Partido de la U lost seats, while German Vargas Lleras’s Cambio Radical party made modest gains, particularly in the Senate, where they jumped to 16 seats.
The Alianza Verde also had a strong showing, doubling their Senate seats from 5 to 10, most likely propelled by the popularity of their standard bearer, former Bogota Mayor Antanas Mockus.
But the real winner of the Congressional elections was former President Alvaro Uribe, who won well over 800,000 votes, representing a third of the nearly 2.5 million votes that the Centro Democratico party received for the Senate.
Political commentators are now expecting a Duque and Petro showdown. Given the crowded field, and based upon Congressional results, it appears highly unlikely that either candidate could get the 50% of votes needed to win outright in the May 27 first round election. It is likely that they will instead face off in a June 17 second round election.
The pressure is now on Sergio Fajardo and German Vargas Lleras, generally considered to be the only two candidates with a realistic shot of earning a spot in a second-round election. However, for both personal and political reasons, their campaigns have stalled. They are now certain to aim their rhetorical fire at Duque and Petro, making the case that Colombia needs a more moderate and centrist path going forward.
It remains to be seen what, if any, will be the role of current president Juan Manuel Santos, who is widely regarded as opposed to the candidacies of both Ivan Duque and Gustavo Petro.