Colombia 2022 Presidential Election - Who Are The Candidates?
2022 is an election year in Colombia as Ivan Duque, who was elected in 2018, will be replaced.
What political alliance are they part of, and who has the best chance of winning?
What is the format and when are the important dates?
This article, which will be the first in a three part series on the 2022 Colombian General election, will answer these questions in detail while providing readers with information about the political landscape in the country.
May 29th will be the first “vuelta”. If one of the candidates obtains 50% plus one of the votes, they will be elected President. But don’t plan on this contest being over in May, because an outright winner during the first vuelta hasn’t ever happened before. Instead, the top two vote-getters will move on to the “segunda vuelta” on June 19th which will decide the winner.
The newly elected president will take office on August 7, 2022.
Petro: Attempt #3 for the Presidency, This Time As Frontrunner
Gustavo Petro is a 61-year-old economist and former guerrilla fighter. He is currently a sitting Senator of the Congress of the Republic for the years 2018-2022. He was mayor of Bogota between 2012 and 2015. In 2015 he was dismissed by the Attorney General of the Nation when he was accused of mismanagement in the garbage collection of the capital city. He is currently leader of the Historic Pact movement with his left-leaning party Colombia Humana. He arrives at this election to compete for the third time for the presidency. Last election, he lost in the segunda vuelta to Ivan Duque 54% to 41%.
Petro is the leader in the polls right now, particularly due to his name recognition for being second place last time around. Many expats, foreigners, and investors have expressed concern to us about a possible Petro victory. The second article in this series will be an in-depth look at a possible Gustavo Petro Presidency, his philosophies around private property and what changes he could make given the constitutional limitations of the Colombian political system.
Gustavo Petro’s government program, in general terms, focuses on changing the model that the country has had for more than 200 years. He proposes making structural reforms to the health system, education, pensions, land and justice system. He has promised to fight corruption (although literally every Colombian politician does), political patronage and distribute the country’s wealth so that it reaches the poorest. He says he will promote the systematic reduction of mining and oil exploitation through the use of clean energy, and greater state control of production activities.
Petro’s critics will be quick to point out his past as a subversive in the 19 April Movement Group (M19). They were responsible for several crimes and terrorist attacks perpetrated in the period 1974-1990. The best known being the theft of the Sword of Bolivar, the seizure of the Dominican Republic Embassy and the bloody seizure of the Palace of Justice in 1985. He is also criticized for his sympathy with the socialist regime of Cuba and the late Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.
Would a Petro Presidency turn Colombia into a new Venezuela? While this fear has been expressed by some, it is not something that could happen easily. Although Colombia and Venezuela as Siamese nations have a common origin, each of these countries has always been clearly different from the other, in almost all aspects of economics and politics. Additionally, the Colombian Constitution places strict limits on the types of changes President’s can make.
Was Petro a good friend of Hugo Chávez? What is certain is that Petro was a personal friend and admirer of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez for many years and was publicly acknowledged by the former president. Even before Chavez was elected president in Venezuela, Petro and Chávez met in Bogotá in 1994 after Chavez was released from prison. He was serving time for for attempting two coups in 1992 in Venezuela against Carlos Andres Perez. He was later pardoned by then Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera. Petro invited Chávez to Colombia and from then on they had developed a friendship. It is clear that a personal relationship and ideological affinity does not necessarily have to influence any eventual government. Petro has been critical of Nicolas Maduro, successor of Chavez, regarding the socialist model that has failed in Venezuela.
Colombia has always had a strong political and economic oligarchy, which has its origin in the old fights of Santander against Bolivar. In the end, Santander’s model triumphed and the separation of powers in Colombia is more than evident. There is a strong Congress and a more independent judiciary. The military has an institutional role and is distanced from political life.
In Colombia, the Presidents of the Republic are bound hand and foot by the old system established by Santander and the Constitution sets a clear limit to their power. In the event that Petro tries to change this system, he would have a lot of problems and very likely could be removed from power, just like when he was Mayor of Bogota.
Unlike Colombia, Venezuela was always a rich nation. So much so that it provoked the envy of its neighbors. It traditionally did not have great economic worries, since it could obtain money from oil exploitation almost without limit. In this country, the military has always tutored democracy and put in place the civilian presidents. In Venezuela, political messianism is almost a religion, first with Bolivar, the eternal Liberator of South America and more recently with Chavez – considered a sort of Latin American avenger who vindicated the poor.
Is Petro invincible? Clearly not, although he now has an indisputable advantage. Petro has traveled the country for years and has had time to make his proposals known. Thus, he is the favorite in the polls right now. Petro’s concern now is to keep leading the intention of votes in the next months. We must not forget that this candidate has already been favorite before and in the end he lost in 2010 in the first round when Juan Manuel Santos was president and came in fourth place and more recently with Ivan Duque in 2018. He has stated that if he loses this time he will announce his retirement from politics.
Petro's Utopia Versus Oligarchies
Petro’s Colombia Humana is defined as a humanist project which aims to achieve important changes in all aspects of national life. While this can be considered a noble cause, some critics question if his true ideals are more sinister or radical. The dilemma would be if he will be able to execute such an ambitious plan if elected president and secondly if he will be able to do it in peace while respecting the republican tradition.
Ghosts That Would Haunt Petro if Elected
Petro, after more than 30 years of intense political struggle, would finally achieve his dream of becoming President of the Republic in an unprecedented election for the country. He has made many enemies along the way after having denounced the links of members of Alvaro Uribe’s government with the paramilitary groups and drug trafficking. He’s also spoken out about extrajudicial executions in the case of Falsos Positivos.
Electoral Calendar in Colombia For 2022
But it is still far too early to take Petro’s victory for granted. There are still several pre-electoral events that could change things. One ongoing event is the attempted recall of Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero an independent and informal ally of Petro. It will be a prelude for Uribism and Petrism to measure forces in the capital of Antioquia. Next, the internal elections between some parties and coalitions to be held in January-March 2022. They will surely move the electorate to one side or the other and will tilt the balance to one of the two great opposing poles.
Another important event is the Congressional Elections scheduled for March 13, 2022. They are also an important step for all candidates and especially for Gustavo Petro. He knows that if he obtains the majority of both chambers to be elected in Colombia (108 senators and 188 deputies to the House of Representatives) he will have a solid political floor in his eventual government. Thus, it is said that the political force that wins in Congress literally takes it all. Otherwise, Petro could win the Presidency and have Congress against him which would greatly inhibit his agenda.
"All Against Petro" - Round Two
If Petro wants to become President, he really needs to reach the elusive 50% during the first round. This hasn’t happened before and it is unlikely to happen this year. If Petro advances to the second round, the vast majority of supporters of other candidates will coalesce around the other advancing candidate.
“All against Petro”. This is another ghost that should haunt him, since his defeat in 2018 was due to his poor ability to convince dissidents from Uribism. Thus Petro has moderated his discourse for months and now seduces sectors of liberalism and center right. All candidates know that they need the center in order to successfully reach the Casa Nariño. Thus, no side has the full votes yet. So this will be a photo finish, as the months to come advance.
The dominant Colombian oligarchy instituted a feudal-style system of stratification of society. Clearly elitist and in practice it prevents poor people from climbing the social ladder. In Colombia today, if you are born poor, you will die poor unless a real miracle happens. According to studies on the subject, we see that an average Colombian would need eleven generations or 330 years to get out of poverty. Something really disappointing for a country so rich in resources, natural beauties and wonderful for the warmth of its people.
Petro has promised to end centuries of social inequality. He intends to bring better opportunities in education, health, security, and employment to the poorest sectors of the country. In this way, he would be able to settle a historical debt that, as we have seen, the neoliberal and right-wing governments in Colombia have not been able to resolve in more than two hundred years of history as an independent nation. His potential government would undoubtedly face a great challenge. But he has the hope of millions of Colombians and the opportunity to go down in history. The biggest challenge will be to do so while maintaining democracy.
Petro has stated that he would govern with the poor in mind. But for this he needs to establish alliances and pacts with the predominant elites. In this way Petro would be able to maintain economic growth and at the same time fulfill his campaign promises. Colombia could be the first country in Latin America to meet the millennium goals in reduction of hunger and extreme poverty.
Beyond Petro: Who Else Has a Chance?
Oscar Iván Zuluaga is a 62 year old economist and businessman. He is the former Minister of Finance in the Government of Álvaro Uribe (2006-2010). He has also been councilman (1988-1990), Mayor of his municipality Pensilvania in Caldas (1990-1992), Senator of the Republic (2002-2006), University professor and former presidential candidate in the 2014 presidential elections. His experience spans more than 40 years in politics and business. He arrives to these 2022 presidential elections with the ruling party Centro Democrático after winning an internal measurement with 43% of the supporters of Uribism against his closest opponent, Senator Maria Fernanda Cabal.
The proposals of a hypothetical government of Oscar Iván Zuluaga are based on democratizing access to health and quality education for all Colombians and strengthening the security policy to reduce the rate of violent crimes. He’s also spoken about promoting the economic development of the country through the reactivation of the agri-food, industrial and commercial sectors. His goals are to generate well-paid jobs and attract more foreign investment. Zuluaga promises an austere state, more efficient in the management of the national budget and where there is greater citizen participation.
In 2017, the Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation against Zuloaga for the illegal financing of the multinational company Odebrecht of his 2014 electoral campaign. The process was subsequently archived for lack of evidence.
One of the most serious problems of his candidacy for the 2022 presidential elections is that his party is currently in government and there is a clear dislike of Iván Duque that affects him in some way. On the other hand, his moderate style does not generate passions in the electorate. Currently, he is lagging behind in the polls with only 12.7% of voting intention at the end of December 2021. A probable scenario is that, in the next few weeks, a moderate outsider will emerge to unite the forces of the right and the center in the battle for the Presidency.
Sergio Fajardo Will Fight against Petrismo and Uribismo at The Same Time
Fajardo’s tenure as mayor of Medellín was recognized nationally and internationally for the urban transformation he achieved in his hometown. In 2010 he was candidate for vice president in alliance with the green party candidate Antanas Mockus. In 2018 he again launched a presidential campaign, this time as an independent, where he obtained more than 4.5 million votes. He finished in third place and failed to pass to the second round falling just 260,000 votes short of second place finisher Petro.
Fajardo proposes a model in which economic and productive development will be key to address social inequalities in Colombia. He seeks to generate greater opportunities with education, health, citizen security, hoping to create 1,500,000 new productive jobs. He also favors environmental sustainability and the fight against corruption as central axes of governmental management.
In 2019 Fajardo was called to trial and subsequently sanctioned by the Comptroller General of the Republic for facts related to Hidroituango a failed hydroelectric megaproject carried out when he was governor of Antioquia. The project has structural failures on the part of the contractors and therefore caused great detriment to the nation’s finances (to the tune of more than 4.7 trillion Colombian pesos). The Prosecutor’s Office accuses Fajardo of not foreseeing the increase in the price of the dollar and not adequately supervising the work. This fact has put Fajardo’s presidential aspiration at stake. If the situation is not resolved in the next few weeks, it may disqualify him from being president of Colombia. Fajardo has taken the case to the Inter-American Court of Justice requesting precautionary measures to be able to compete.
Fajardo has maintained that he is the only candidate capable of defeating Petro in 2022 and that powerful groups in Colombia want to stop his race to the Casa de Nariño. It seems that his disagreements in social networks with the ineffable and still powerful ex-president Álvaro Uribe Vélez could be affecting him.
Another Antioquian Politician, FICO, Throws His Hat Into The Ring
The administration of Federico Gutiérrez as mayor of Medellín had historic levels of citizen approval of 82%. His time as Mayor also saw significant drops in violence and advances in the infrastructure of the city.
In 2019 the Procuraduría General de La Republica accused Federico Gutiérrez of political proselytism in favor of candidate Santiago Gómez (who lost the election to independent opposition leader and current Mayor Daniel Quintero Calle). Quintero has accused Gutiérrez of concealing errors in the HidroItuango project. However, there have not yet been any sanctions against FICO by the Comptroller’s Office or the Attorney General’s Office. So for now, FICO, unlike Sergio Fajardo, has a clear path to compete for the Presidency of the Republic in 2022.
FICO proposes to fight to lift 21 million Colombians out of poverty through an ambitious program of economic and social reforms to boost the country’s development. For some, FICO could be the unifier of the center and the right to defeat the left again in 2022.
Will FICO be able to unite the democratic factors before the advance of the socialist left? Perhaps he is the most neutral and moderate candidate, which is another point in his favor (besides being the youngest of the serious contenders). Additionally, he is of humble origins, which naturally connects him with the popular masses. Furthermore, he has less scandals which can be so frequent in traditional Colombian politics. Because of his leadership style away from controversy he could build bridges between Uribistas and dissidents. Is FICO the candidate capable of stopping Petro’s advance? One point against him is that he is not such a nationally known leader. So, if he is ultimately nominated, he will have little time to make himself known throughout the country. He must conquer the vote of other regions to win the presidency. Because the votes of his native Antioquia are not enough for him to be president of Colombia.
Rodolfo Hernandez, Oldest and Perhaps Most Controversial Candidate
Rodolfo Hernández: He is a businessman and civil engineer, and at 76 years old he is the oldest candidate for these presidential elections and likely the most controversial. He was mayor of the city of Bucaramanga from 2016-2019. In 2021 he registered as an independent candidate for the 2022 presidential elections with 1,895,000 signatures.
Rodolfo has an incendiary speech and is trailing Petro in the polls in second place. However, his candidacy is growing in popularity every day. Perhaps remaining independent and keeping a casual and radical right-wing style is beginning to pay off. He promises to end corruption with his motto not to lie, not to steal and not to betray. His eventual government program promises to carry his experience of more than 50 years as a construction businessman into national life.
In 2018, the Attorney General’s Office sanctioned him for physically assaulting an opposition councilman. Subsequently, he was suspended from office by the state Attorney General’s Office for his participation in political activism as mayor. This caused him to resign on September 17, 2019. Recently, the Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into alleged irregularities in the contracting of a consulting contract for the implementation of new technologies in waste management. Could Rodolfo advance in his presidential aspirations in 2022? The campaign intensifies and we will find out in the coming weeks. A candidate that will surely give something to talk about.
The most curious thing is that in spite of the scandals and sparkling declarations, the intention to vote in favor of Rodolfo is growing steadily in the polls. I think people are looking for an avenger and Rodolfo Hernandez, although he looks more like Petro than the rest of the right-wing candidates, perhaps he can give a surprise in these elections.
Ingrid Betancourt: Former FARC Captive Launches Presidential Run
Ingrid Betancourt is a renowned political scientist and former senator of the Republic during the period 1998-2001. She became famous when she denounced the financing of drug trafficking in the presidential campaign of former president Ernesto Samper Pizano. She is currently 60 years old and has announced her return to Colombian politics after 20 years of her first presidential aspiration for the Oxigeno green party.
Victim of Ingrid's Prolonged Captivity that went Around the World
On February 23, 2002, the then-presidential candidate was kidnapped by FARC guerrillas in the area of San Vicente del Caguán. She remained in captivity for more than six years. The kidnapping of Ingrid Bethancourt moved the country and the international community when sad images of the conditions in which she was held became known. She tried to escape several times, but was unable to free herself and was recaptured by her kidnappers.
Political leaders such as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Fidel Castro of Cuba, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela made unsuccessful efforts for her release. Bethancourt has said that during her kidnapping she was tortured and mistreated by her captors. The death of her father days after her kidnapping and the separation from her family were very difficult moments for her during those years. She was rescued on July 2, 2008, in the Guaviare jungle as part of a large deployment of the Armed Forces in Operation Jaque.
Ingrid Betancourt has been awarded the French government’s Legion of Honor and the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord. For many years she has fought on behalf of the victims of the armed conflict in Colombia.
In 2010, she asked the Colombian government for 6.8 million dollars in compensation for the moral and economic damages she suffered as a result of her captivity. This generated rejection from many sectors of the population who saw an interest in taking economic advantage of her captivity. In 2022 a court-ordered FARC to pay 36 million dollars to Betancourt’s family for emotional damages.
Criticisms that Ingrid Betancourt will Face in her Second Presidential Race
The changes she has undergone throughout her long political life have confused a large part of the Colombian electorate. First as a dissident of liberalism, then she had stormy love-hate relationship with Uribism.
In addition, for years Betancourt has maintained a solid friendship with former President Juan Manuel Santos, Nobel Peace Prize winner and architect of her release when he was Minister of Defense in the Uribe administration. Then in 2021 they published together the book entitled: “Una Conversación Pendiente” in which both narrate their vision of the Colombian internal conflict and the challenges of the peace agreement and the country to heal wounds and continue towards a better future.
But Ingrid Betancourt has also flirted with the left-wing of Hugo Chavez and Gustavo Petro. In 2008 she affirmed that: “Chávez is a great democratic leader” which caused a stir in the country, because of the former Venezuelan President’s history of authoritarianism (which even caused a failed coup attempt against him on Abril 11, 2002)
In 2018 Ingrid Betancourt supported Gustavo Petro in the second electoral round when Iván Duque won. However, she has now pointed out that Petro’s project represents a return to the past and launched severe criticisms of her former ally. Ingrid has said: “you cannot sell your soul to the devil to become President of Colombia” and that she is afraid of some radicals who accompany Petro in his new campaign.
After her kidnapping, she abandoned politics for a while and settled in France at a time when her popularity was very high in Colombia. Which generated disillusionment and new criticism from all sectors of the country. Betancourt has defended that she tried to make up for lost time with her family. After her epic rescue, she abandoned politics and moved to France at a time when her popularity was at its peak. Which generated disillusionment and new criticism from all sectors of the country. Betancourt has defended herself that she tried to make up for lost time with her family.
Challenges Facing Ingrid Betancourt's Return to Politics
Ingrid has said that she is coming to finish what she started in her failed presidential adventure in 2002. Is now the best time to fulfill her dream 20 years later? Who is Ingrid Betancourt really? What is her ideology? These answers, perhaps few people could answer with simplicity in Colombia. Which is one of the biggest difficulties Ingrid will have to face to awaken a real enthusiasm around her candidacy.
Betancourt’s government proposals are to fight corruption and improve the quality of life of more than 8 million Colombians who have been displaced by the years of armed violence. Her candidacy gives some encouragement to the center and right sectors. For the time being, Ingrid aspires to win the election of the Coalición de La Esperanza and advance to the second round. Will she be able to reach the Casa de Nariño? For now it is too early to tell.
Presidential Race Heads Into Decisive Stage
The weeks are approaching to define the two candidates that will dispute the seat of the Palacio de Nariño in the second round, since it is taken for granted that no one has enough votes to win in May. But there is still time for many things to happen. What we are sure is that as the months go by, there will be attacks and obstacles. Alliances and betrayals. Where practically anything goes, in order to survive. Many already know that they will not make it, but they make desperate maneuvers to add or subtract votes in favor of the opposing sides.
The candidate representing the forces of the center and the right will have, in practice, a few weeks to convince the undecided electorate, which according to surveys is around 20% of the electorate right now. This will be a titanic mission. It is not unreasonable to think that some leaders of the anti-petro coalitions do not reach an agreement in time and go to the first round divided. This would be a great catastrophe for the traditional leaderships and Petro would win comfortably. Thus, he would sit in the presidential chair on August 7, 2022. But it is also possible that a third independent force representing the traditional sectors will emerge and in this scenario, there will be a photo finish.
Petro and Fajardo, Petro and FICO, Petro and Rodolfo, Petro and Ingrid?… Who would you like to see lead Colombia for the next four years?
In the next installments of this series of Colombian politics. We will follow closely what happens in the run-up to these elections.