Macro Analysis /

Colombia: Primaries, legislative election to set stage for presidential faceoff

  • Traditional parties may lose ground in the senate and the house of representatives

  • None of the presidential candidates will win outright in the first round on May 29, per all polls

  • Gustavo Petro is the front runner to win the first round of the presidential elections

Colombia: Primaries, legislative election to set stage for presidential faceoff
4 March 2022

The country's general election rally begins with the legislative election, set to take place on March 13. In the legislative elections, Colombians will choose 294 seats, 108 senators, and 186 legislators for the house of representatives. The 108 senators will be made up of 100 national constituencies, 5 members from the FARC guerrilla (Commons party) as part of the peace agreements, 2 for native communities, and 1 for the second-highest presidential vote. For the house of representatives, 161 seats will be chosen by the 32 departments according to their population, 5 for members from the FARC guerrilla as part of the peace agreements, 2 for afro communities, 1 for native communities, 1 for Colombians abroad, and 16 for the victims of the guerrillas' conflict.

High uncertainty in the path towards the presidential elections is reflected towards the legislative elections too. New parties from the center and left wings are seemingly strong, while traditional conservative parties continue to lose ground, affected by the unpopularity of President Iván Duque. Indeed, the conservative's weakness comes as ex-president Álvaro Uribe is losing influence and, for the first time in more than 18 years, is no longer a candidate for public office.

Regarding the Senate, we expect that alternative parties and alliances such as the so-called Historic Pact (left-wing) and Center Hope Coalition (center) will win more seats than in the 2018 election. According to La Silla Vacía, the PH could win as many as 13 seats this year, the CCE main list could obtain 13 seats, and the New Liberalism (NL, center-left) list could get 5 seats. If so, alternative parties could secure almost double the seats gained in 2018.

On the other hand, we expect that traditional parties such as the ruling Democratic Center (PCD), Radical Change (PCR), the Liberal Party (PL), the Conservative Party (PC), and the National Unity party (PUN), will lose some seats as a consequence in part of their support towards the Duque administration. Per local calculations, traditional parties could obtain 62 seats, losing 15 from the 77 gained in 2018.

On March 13, besides voting for Congress, Colombians can vote for one of the three coalitions primaries (Historic Pact, Center Hope Coalition, and Team for Colombia) to select their nominees towards the first round of the presidential elections, to be held on May 29, along with the other candidates out of the consultation.

Senator Gustavo Petro is sure to become the Historic Pact's candidate, per all polls. He should easily defeat Francia Márquez and Camilo Romero. Petro, the poll leader towards the first round of the election, favors increasing property taxes, eliminating "unnecessary" tax exemptions, increasing import tariffs to protect local producers (mainly agricultural, food manufacturing, textiles, and leather), and halting oil exploration contracts (without canceling any current agreements), moving towards cleaner energies. Petro has criticized BanRep's independence, saying President Duque has appointed too many board members, and proposes a reform to have productive organizations sit on the CB's board.

Sergio Fajardo leads the polls to become the candidate of the Center Hope Coalition. But his victory is not assured, with Juan Manuel Galán and Alejandro Gaviria following him. In our view, Fajardo is the strongest candidate to get the nomination, but Gaviria is gaining momentum. Fajardo is seeking a presidential candidate for the second time. He bets on the strengthening of exports and the incorporation of technology. He also wants to expand and diversify the import capacity of different products while caring for and promoting the development of the national agricultural sector.

The nomination chances in the right-wing coalition Team for Colombia are currently headed by Federico Gutiérrez, followed by Alejandro Char and David Barguil, who we see with low possibilities to be nominated. Gutiérrez is a civil engineer with a master's degree in Senior Management and Political Science. He is running as a center-right candidate, supporting free enterprises, free markets, lowering taxes for companies, fighting corruption, and improving security to attract international investment.

The main candidates out of the primaries are the official candidate Oscar Iván Zuluaga and the independent candidate Rodolfo Hernández. Zuluaga proposes a political reform to reduce the size of Congress and lawmakers' salaries, and a reduction of taxes, namely the so-called 4x1000 tax. At the same time, Hernández supports the legalization of drugs to eliminate drug trafficking. Also, he favors implementing the peace agreement and extending it to the other armed groups.

The legislative election results play a significant role in the first round of the presidential elections to be held on May 29, as candidates who gather a solid amount of allied senators and legislators will stand a better chance to reach the second round, as none of the candidates have enough votes to win in the first round outright, per all polls.

Second round bets

Petro is raising his vote intention and leading all the polls. He is highly likely to reach the second round; therefore, the first stage of the election is a battle to determine who becomes the candidate who will face him in a second-round on June 19, in our view.

In our view, the winner of the Center Hope Coalition primary, Fajardo or Gaviria, are the most likely to go through a second round against Petro. However, some polls put Federico Gutiérrez, the most likely nominee of the coalition Team for Colombia, in an excellent spot to pass to the second round. Despite the good polling results from the independent candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, we don't believe he has the support to win the ticket to the second round, although a surprise is indeed possible.

In any scenario, the next president will need to make alliances to gain governance as no candidate will have control over congress. Particularly, a left-wing or center president could be in a difficult spot to change current political and economic policies as it is likely that more than half of congress remains with conservative tendencies.