What to Expect When You’re Electing, Colombian Edition

With their presidential election, Colombians thought this long campaign was finally over. But the results of the first round suggest it’s all just getting started.

Photo: La Prensa Web

Remember when I told you a few months ago not to panic at your sight of Gustavo Petro doing well during the first round? Well, I repeat my message. You’ll get a chance to panic soon enough (at me!), don’t worry.

But first, what happened?
You can follow the the results here, regions are colored only by winner regardless of their margin, so you’ll have to click through each to see details.

Iván Duque & Marta Lucía Ramírez (39.1%):

The happiest man of this election. His over 7.5 million votes add up to more than what he obtained in the primary combined with those of Ramírez, his opponent at the time. This result, in terms of raw votes, is still better than his party’s candidate in 2014.

This result, in terms of raw votes, is still better than his party’s candidate in 2014.

Regionally, there’s not much difference between 2014 and 2018, with uribistas winning the central regions of the country, unsurprisingly dominating Uribe’s heartland of the Medellín area and the coffee belt. The big change? In the 2014 runoff, Santos won in Norte de Santander. In the peace plebiscite, he barely lost it. Now, in 2018, it was the best department for Duque in the entire country, with great results in Cúcuta.

It’s now clear that the Venezuelan migration crisis is playing a significant political role in certain regions of Colombia. The other most pro-Duque departments were also in the border region.

Gustavo Petro & Ángela María Robledo (25.1%):

While Petro’s final score was not as high as certain polls predicted (around 30%), his result was still impressive, beating his own 2010 score by millions of votes and having the best result of a left-wing candidate in recent history.

His best results were in the least economically developed regions of the country.

But what’s remarkable about Petro is the geographic distribution of his votes, reaching out to a periphery that had been traditionally abstentionist or motivated by local leaders. His best results were in the least economically developed regions of the country, those most affected by the armed conflict (both by guerrilla and paramilitary fighters) and even in certain departments of his home region of the Caribbean, including those next to Uribe’s famous hacienda.

Sergio Fajardo & Claudia López (23.7%):

Underestimated by the polls, it seems like Fajardo grew considerably during the last week (when publishing polls is banned), and surprised everyone by coming just a few points behind Petro. His strength came most notably from Bogotá, where he was the overall winner.

He also took quite a few rural areas, another surprise.

He also took quite a few rural areas, another surprise, but unlike Petro, these were in the economic and geographic center of the country, meaning: his message reached beyond his socially progressive, urban middle class into traditionally rural and conservative areas.

Germán Vargas Lleras & Juan Carlos Pinzón (7.3%):

The predicted winner was anything but. In his eight years in government he was minister of the Interior, minister of Housing and even vice-president, always the face of infrastructure projects and massive housing plans, never missing the chance to set up a stage filled with grateful families.

The predicted winner was anything but.

And yet, he got soundly defeated in most of the country.

It seems like the lack of charisma and eight years of unpopular government can really drag you down. Vargas Lleras and his party were famous for his maquinaria, the vast teams of local leaders who would bring out voters in exchange for political favor. The thing is that when politics are so transactional, the incentive is to go with the winning team, who may actually reward you in the end.

Humberto de la Calle & Clara López (2.1%):

De la Calle was the guy who spent years in Cuba leading the negotiating team with the FARC to write the peace agreement, considering the presidential race as his final duty. In the end, leftists went with Petro, moderate progressives with Fajardo and everyone else either dislikes the deal or had no time for someone so close to President Santos. He was also not-so-secretly sabotaged by his own party.

The second round:

It’s coming down to either President Duque or President Petro.

In these circumstances, candidates tend to move to the center. For Duque to win, he needs to be a soft-spoken, modern economic technocrat who is also strong on drugs, crime and, of course, Maduro. Duque has close to 40% of votes in the bank, so being cautious is his best strategy. He may also remind voters of Petro’s past in the M-19 guerrilla, but that argument has lost force when many of its former combatants have reached high office, including an uribista senator.

He can also count on the supporters of Vargas Lleras to vote against Petro, who they see as a risk to the economy and institutions, not to mention a terrible mayor of Bogotá. There is also a diverse group of voters, which includes the more economically conservative, peace deal skeptics, and those who just plain don’t like Petro or Duque, voting “blank” instead, which is an option on the ballot but has no legal effect in a runoff election.

It’s coming down to either President Duque or President Petro.

For Petro to win, he has to present himself as a more modern, open democrat, who can build diverse and welcoming alliances. He can call back to his days as a popular senator, focusing on corruption and power abuse. Hesitant voters need to be reassured that land reform through tax is not “¡Exprópiese!”

He also needs to hammer home the idea that Duque is just a façade for Uribe, where the ex-pres would control the Executive and Congress, and while Uribe was ultimately kept in check by the courts, Duque has proposed a reform that would give the president more control over the Judicial branch.

Most important, though, he needs to get the votes (that re-elected Santos) of those who accept he’s the last chance we have to defend the peace agreement and to stop the return to violence that marked the Uribe years.

That’s how, this time, he’ll be getting mine.
See? Panic at me!