A month before the local and regional elections in Colombia, the country is shifting to the right, according to polls. Carlos Galan in Bogota, Federico Gutierrez in Medellin, Roberto Ortiz in Cali, and Alex Char in Barranquilla lead in the polls for the main cities in Colombia.
The latest poll, published today and reported on by national media, confirms the candidates who have been leading in their respective cities for months. In the capital, Bogota, there will be a runoff for the first time, while in Medellin and Barranquilla, the favorites have no rivals. The options are somewhat more open in Cali, where the favorite, Roberto Ortiz, is ahead by 10 points over the second-place candidate, Alejandro Eder.
In Colombia, it seems that the pendulum theory is being realized. After progressive mayors won in 3 of the country’s 4 largest cities in 2019, and those elections served as a prelude to the victory of leftist Gustavo Petro in the 2022 presidential elections, things now appear to be turning 180 degrees.
Four years ago, Claudia Lopez, the first openly lesbian candidate, representing the progressive Green Alliance, won the mayoralty of Bogota, defeating Carlos Galan, the candidate that all current polls predict will win in October. Traditionally, the Colombian capital has been the most progressive city in the country, as indicated by the ideological trend of most of its mayors over the last 20 years, with a few exceptions.
A similar situation occurred in Medellin. The country’s second-largest city, traditionally a stronghold of former President Alvaro Uribe and his conservative Democratic Center party, elected Daniel Quintero, a 39-year-old who, despite having a political history as an official in the governments of conservative President Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), identified with progressive projects and supported Gustavo Petro’s presidential candidacy in 2022.
Cali also saw a shift toward the left. Jorge Ivan Ospina, the son of a commander of the M19 guerrilla in the 1980s, won the mayoralty of the capital of Colombian salsa as a candidate of the progressive Green Alliance.
Barranquilla was the exception. In the Char family’s stronghold, Jaime Pumarejo, a representative of the political clan, continued the tradition of the coastal city supporting the candidate chosen by the powerful family that dominates politics in the Atlantico department and seems immune to the twists and turns and current logic of Colombian politics.
2023, a Conservative Revolution
If the polls’ predictions hold true one month before October 29, the shift in Colombia’s major cities would be radical, in favor of more right-leaning candidates than the current local administrations.
These cities also share the fact that their current mayors have high disapproval ratings among citizens after nearly four years in office.
In Bogota, the defeated candidate from 2019, Carlos Galan, has led in all the polls from the beginning. This year, Bogota introduces the novelty of a runoff, something that is almost certain to happen since sources suggest that Galan’s victory will not be by more than 40% of the votes, which would be necessary for a first-round win.
According to the polls, Galan is expected to secure around 32% of the votes in the first round. He is followed by the leftist candidate, Gustavo Bolivar, with 22%, who is in a close race for the second place that leads to the runoff against Juan Daniel Oviedo, a former official in President Duque’s government, who has slightly more than 20%.
Bolívar is President Gustavo Petro’s candidate and a former senator known for being part of the hardline faction of the Historic Pact, the left-wing political coalition that supports President Petro.
Carlos Galan, on the other hand, is the son of the former presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, who was assassinated in 1989 when all the polls indicated he was the clear favorite to win the Colombian presidency in the 1990 elections.
Galan has revived his father’s political brand, the New Liberalism, a center-right party that claims to be independent of the two traditional parties, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party, that dominated Colombian politics until the end of the 20th century. Today, both parties still have significant electoral machinery in their territories but are far from regaining a leading national role as they had in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In the capital elections, issues related to security and the construction of the metro have been central to the debate.
In Medellin, according to published studies, there is no contest. The victory of former mayor and presidential candidate Federico Gutierrez is absolute. Different polls give Gutierrez between 60% and 68% of the vote, and none provide any chance to the second-place candidate, Juan Carlos Urpegui, the continuity candidate of progressive Daniel Quintero, who does not reach 15% in any published study.
Federico Gutierrez is considered close to the traditional conservative politics represented by former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who is also from Antioquia. Gutierrez has a long political history in his homeland, serving in various local government positions over the last 20 years, in addition to being mayor of Antioquia’s capital from 2016 to 2020.
The current candidate for mayor dared to enter national politics in 2022. His presidential candidacy was cut short in the first round, where he did not pass the threshold, being surpassed by Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernandez, candidates who faced off in the presidential runoff.
Despite having the support of all traditional parties to the right of the Liberal Party and being considered by political analysts as the candidate of the system, Gutierrez failed to surpass Rodolfo Hernandez as an alternative to Petro in those elections, which demonstrated the electorate’s dissatisfaction with the traditional political class.
This situation, however, does not apply to Medellin, where Gutierrez’s results in the 2022 presidential elections were excellent, matching the predictions in his current bid for the mayoralty.
The capital of Colombia’s Pacific region is perhaps the most open election of all, along with the second spot in Bogota. Candidate Roberto Ortiz leads in the polls. In Cali, as in all cities except Bogota, the winner is determined by a simple majority, as there is no runoff. Polls give Ortiz around 33% of the votes, about 10 points ahead of his only possible rival, Alejandro Eder.
In recent hours, it has been reported that Eder has formed an alliance with Diana Rojas, who also aspired to the mayoralty of Cali, albeit with no real chance of winning. This alliance could give the candidate a better chance, but for now, Ortiz’s first place seems assured.
Both Ortiz and Eder represent center-right options and distance themselves from any association with the current mayor, Jorge Iván Ospina, one of the mayors with the highest disapproval ratings in the country.
In the capital of the Colombian Caribbean, there is no contest. The victory of Alejandro Char, who was already mayor of the city for two terms, is overwhelming. The only thing left to determine is the margin of Char’s victory. The most optimistic polls place his triumph near 87% of the votes, while the lowest estimates still give him around 74%.
Thus, the second-place candidate, Antonio Bohorquez, is no rival for Alex Char, as even the most optimistic polls don’t give the alternative to the Char family’s dominance in the Atlántico capital more than 6% of the votes.
The Char family’s hegemony is absolute in the city. Not even the alleged corruption cases involving Alex Char’s brother seem to affect the overwhelming popular support for the former mayor. It’s worth noting that Arturo Char, the candidate’s brother, faces a trial on charges of conspiracy to commit a crime and vote-buying in the case related to Aida Merlano, who exposed a massive corruption and vote-buying scandal in the Atlántico department.