Former Colombian President Ernesto Samper has resigned from the Liberal Party, to which he has belonged throughout his political life, in order to focus on a new, more left-leaning movement. Samper, who served as Colombia’s president from 1994 to 1998, was the last liberal president of the country. Since 2002, the Liberals and Conservatives, the parties that had shared power in Colombia’s bipartisan system, have remained distant from the presidency.
In a letter sent to the party leader, also former President César Gaviria, the 73-year-old Samper explained that he will focus on his personal project, the “Poder Popular” (People’s Power) party, which he believes embodies the essence of liberalism, an ideology he has been a part of for 50 years.
New Paths for Liberalism:
Although Ernesto Samper has reserved further explanations for the launch of his new political project, the former president has stated that he made the decision to resign from his lifelong party “with the hope of being able to open up new paths for liberalism.”
Samper’s goal is to launch “Poder Popular” so that the organization can compete in the 2026 legislative elections. “Poder Popular” was granted legal status by Colombia’s electoral authorities, arguing that the organization, although initially created as a faction within the Liberal Party, operated independently in the 1980s and 1990s.
“They constitute an unjustified limitation on the political participation rights of the ‘Poder Popular’ political movement with full guarantees. Although the organization did not have the formal recognition of legal status, it had its own political and administrative structure under which it achieved significant electoral results,” stated the National Electoral Council (CNE).
Political Life Since 1986:
Among the arguments put forth by the CNE to grant legal status to “Poder Popular” was that, even within the Liberal Party, the movement managed to elect representatives in the 1986 congressional elections.
In this regard, the electoral authority acknowledges that “Poder Popular” “registered 22 of the 57 candidates that made up the Liberal Party’s list, who received, as a result of the campaign it conducted under its name and logo, 1,354,176 votes out of the total 3,382,406 cast for the list.”
Likewise, the CNE acknowledges that “for the 1994 presidential elections, Ernesto Samper Pizano (…) campaigned under the ‘Poder Popular’ platform and logo, and was elected as president of the Republic, receiving 3,733,336 votes in the second round.”
With these arguments, although Ernesto Samper’s official presidential candidacy was under the Liberal Party, the electoral authority recognizes the decisive role of a movement that used its own name and logo and was essential to the 1994 presidential candidate’s victory.
The “Red” Faction Against César Gaviria:
This marks the rupture of the so-called “red faction,” the more left-leaning tendency within the Liberal Party led by Ernesto Samper. The party, tightly controlled by former President César Gaviria (1990-1994), follows his clear neoliberal tendencies.
Tensions between Gaviria and the current president of the country, Gustavo Petro, and his left-wing coalition were constant during last year’s election campaign. This led to significant discomfort, as liberalism in Colombia has always had two factions, one more centrist and another more left-leaning.
Tensions within Colombian liberalism were so great that a faction of Liberal Party members, breaking with the discipline imposed by Gaviria, created a movement called “Liberales con Petro” (Liberals with Petro) in 2022 to support the left-wing presidential candidacy in Colombia.
Likewise, there are currently up to 18 Liberal Party senators who have expressed their willingness to break with their party and support the social reforms promoted by President Petro’s government in Congress.