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More than 19 million Colombians turned out to vote for President / Mas que 19 millones de colombianos votary por presidente

The 2018 Colombian Presidential Election

Sunday, June 17th, Colombia elected Iván Duque Márquez as its new president. Colombian politics can be tough to wrap the brain around.  Here’s a little information on the Colombian political system, the election process and this year’s results.

Sunday, May 27thwas the first round in the general election that had six candidates. Jorge Antonio Trujillo of the We Are All Colombian party, Humberto de la Calle of the Liberal party, Germán Vargas Lleras a candidate for a political movement that carries his name, Sergio Fajardo of the Colombian Coalition party, Gustavo Petro of the Human Colombia party, and Iván Duque of the Democratic Center Party were the presidential candidates this year.

Colombian Elections

Colombians waiting to vote for president
Colombians line up outside polling station to vote.

Elections in Colombia are always on a Sunday. That means the night before is boring. They have a dry law (la ley seca) that prohibits the sale of alcohol the weekend of elections. Saturday, June 16th, folks crowded to movie theaters to see the Han Solo Star Wars saga (not too memorable, by the way) and the latest superhero installments from Marvel comics, but the night clubs and bars were dark.

The rationale behind the dry law is to keep the populace from stoking possible incendiary political opinions or reactionary election results with alcohol.

On my morning walk the day of the runoff election, I saw a few soccer enthusiasts fervently drinking beer and cheering Mexico who was playing against Germany in the World Cup. Mexico prevailed against expectations. I ran into them again in the evening. They were still drinking, having switched from beer to aguardiente. So much for the dry law. Of course, they were much more preoccupied with soccer than the results of the presidential election. The Colombian selection had yet to play. That’s when folks will really go crazy.

Regardless of the preeminence of the World Cup, this year’s presidential contest did indeed have its share of reactionary opinions, from severe partisanship for a particular candidate to extreme apathy for all the candidates.

Colombian Political System

Colombia has 16 political parties, though not all have seats in the congress. Parties win congressional seats through elections based on the number of votes each party receives.

The newest political party is the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force. This was formally the FARC revolutionary group, which kept that same name for its new political identity. The peace agreement ending the 50+ year armed conflict signed at the end of 2016, successfully converted them from revolutionary movement to political party. That agreement also guaranteed the FARC political party five congressional seats in each chamber of the Senate and House of Representatives. Their poor election results would not have allocated them any seats otherwise. Only 10 of the 16 political parties hold the majority of congressional seats and carry the most political sway.

The Most Powerful Parties

The Social Party of National Unity, which carried Álvaro Uribe Vélez to the presidency in 2002, was formerly the party of president Juan Manuel Santos, who will be replaced by the newly elected Ivan Duque. Santos, once Uribe’s protege, shepherded the peace process with the FARC and even won the Nobel Prize last year for the effort. But the accords are highly contested for being too lenient and not providing enough recognition and support to the plight of the victims of the conflict.

Uribe renounced his presidential retiree’s salary when his term ended and founded the new Democratic Center party through which he became a senator. This is the party that put up this year’s winning presidential candidate. The party is basically rightest and conservative. At first, Duque was seen to be merely a puppet to Uribe. But through debates and over the long campaign trail, Duque did manage to carve out his own identity. He is thought to be more center-right than the extreme right stance of Uribe.

Duque’s main opponent turned out to be Gustavo Francisco Petro Urrego. Petro’s party, the independent Colombian Human Movement is very left. They’re frequently compared to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. Gustavo Petro is an economist, a former mayor of the country’s capital, Bogotá, an ex-senator and an ex-guerrilla of the M-19. The M-19 was a leftist guerrilla movement composed of university students who on April 19, 1970 formed in protest over the disputed winner of that year’s presidential election. In 1990 they disarmed and became a political movement, moderating their position from extreme left to center-left and thereby gaining a more solid political following. Petro considers himself to be a champion of the poor.

Election Round One and Two

The first electoral round was basically a free-for-all among the candidates from the strongest political parties. This year the two majority finishers were Duque with 39.14% of the vote (7,569,693) and Petro with 25.08% or 4,851,254 votes.

Over 19 million Colombians participated in both the first general election and the runoff. That’s a voter turnout of 53.04%. Pretty high!

Polls favored Duque to win the June 17th runoff, which he did with 10,373,080 votes or 53.98%. Petro finished with 8,034,189 votes or 41.81%.

Regarding his defeat, Petro has stated that he is committed to return to the senate, to be an opposition to the new government, defend natural resources and the peace agreement. He’s seen as positioning himself for another presidential run in 2022.

The President-Elect

Ivan Duque, president-elect of Colombia based o. result of 2018 runoff election
Ivan Duque Marquéz, Colombian President-Elect

At 41, Duque is Colombia’s youngest president-elect. He will enter office with a mandate of having received more than 10 million votes in that final election round, the most of any president in history.He will be Colombia’s 117th president. Duque is a lawyer and economist and has served as a senator from 2014 up to this ascendancy to the presidency.

President-Elect Duque has stated that with humility and honor he intends to deliver all of his energy in working to unite the country. He says Colombians all want a country with everybody and for everybody. He also stated his intention to make “corrections” to the peace agreement. Although he didn’t go into details, he affirmed that he will comply with the “dream” that the guerrillas be reincorporated back into civilian life.

There’s a lot more to tell … on Colombia!