The political opposition to Gustavo Petro’s government is taking a firm stance following the results of the regional elections held yesterday. The defeat of the candidates from the Pacto Histórico, the coalition that supports the government and the president, was comprehensive, and many analysts are referring to it as a “defeat” for the president. While candidates aligned with the coalition won in 9 out of the 32 departments in terms of mayoralties, none of the major capital cities or governorships saw a victory for the political left.
In the light of these results, the political opposition is celebrating what they view as a plebiscite on the policies implemented during these 14 months of the country’s first progressive government. Some analysts agree with this view, while others point out that the specific dynamics and electoral alliances in these regional elections are shaped by local realities. However, it’s undeniable that the government’s social support has been seriously undermined. Important figures within the Pacto Historico, such as Vice President Francia Marquez or Bogota candidate Gustavo Bolívar, have acknowledged this fact.
The president, however, is not describing the outcome as a defeat, let alone a punishment for his tenure leading the country.
“Plebiscite” in Bogota
Although the Sunday election in the capital was for the new mayor for the 2024-2027 term, President Petro’s recent focus on the future of the city’s metro, opposing the project being pursued by the current mayor, Claudia López, turned the national opposition’s vote into a “plebiscite” on the president and his political agenda.
If this was the case, the defeat was historic. The candidate considered most aligned with López’s approach secured a resounding victory. Carlos Galán will be the new mayor with nearly 50% of the votes in the first round, something unprecedented in Bogotá. Galán, who ran with his own electoral label, garnered nearly 1,500,000 votes, tripling the support for Gustavo Bolívar, the Petro-aligned candidate, and successfully consolidating the “useful vote” against the left-wing candidate.
In this regard, the future mayor was clear in his election night speech. Galan referred to the topic of the underground metro supported by the presidency, a project that, after the elections, appears to be entirely discarded. “The citizens have spoken clearly, Mr. President,” said Carlos Galán, who also advocates for maintaining the current partially elevated route through the city center for the long-awaited Bogotá metro.
The current local leader, Mayor Claudia López, expressed a similar sentiment. “There’s your plebiscite,” she said, and was quick to congratulate Carlos Galán on his resounding victory. The current mayor interprets these results, as do many analysts, as an endorsement of her fight to preserve the current metro route, an ongoing conflict with the presidency.
Setback in Medellín
If the results in Bogota were unfavorable for the president’s supported candidate, things were even worse in Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin. There, former Mayor Daniel Quintero, closely aligned with the head of state, resigned from his position to support Juan Carlos Upegui, the continuity candidate for the local government.
Medellín, a historic stronghold of the conservative Uribe political faction, took a different political course in 2019, electing an independent candidate who later aligned with Colombia’s first left-wing president. With the competition from Federico Gutierrez, a longtime political figure in Antioquia and a former mayor on two occasions, Upegui’s chances seemed slim, as reflected by consistent polling data.
The results from yesterday confirmed these predictions, and the conservative Gutierrez, with over 70% of the votes, crushed the progressive project of Quintero, who was now represented by Upegui and received just 10% of the votes.
The mayor-elect celebrated his victory by stating, “Today, together, we made trust defeat corruption, demagogy, and populism. Today, hope and optimism are the great winners.” Meanwhile, the defeated candidate acknowledged his loss and congratulated the victor. “I congratulate Federico Gutiérrez and wish him the best in his mandate for the good of Medellín. Our goal will be to lead an alternative vision with respect and from the perspective of ideas. We can build from our differences,” wrote Juan Carlos Upegui.
Progressivism Loses Support in Colombia
Among the various conclusions drawn from the regional elections, the most apparent is that, 14 months into Petro’s presidency, progressivism, which won the 2022 presidential elections, is losing support in Colombia. Several factors contribute to this situation: allegations of corruption in the financing of President Petro’s campaign, with clear implications involving his son Nicolas, as acknowledged by the president himself in court; social reform initiatives, highly praised but failing to advance in the legislative chambers; constant changes in ministerial positions that convey an image of instability; and presidential decisions that have not been effectively communicated to the public.
It’s undoubtedly true that local and regional elections are influenced by specific circumstances, but the results of yesterday represent a significant expression of disapproval for President Petro’s government, and this comes when he is barely over a year into his term.