Colombia’s Choice: Duque vs Petro

Irene Estefanía González / Inter-American Dialogue

On June 7, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted an event titled “Colombia’s Choice: Duque vs Petro”. This discussion, moderated by Michael Shifter, featured panelists Catalina Botero from the Universidad de los Andes, Juan Carlos Iragorri, director of Club de Prensa at NTN24, and Peter Schechter, cohost of the Altamar Podcast. The conversation analyzed the results of the first round of the election and discussed what their predictions are for the second round of the presidential race, which pits Iván Duque of the Centro Democrático party against Gustavo Petro of Colombia Humana.

Botero began by highlighting how significant and decisive these elections are for Colombia. Regarding the first round of the elections, the results reflect a general division in the country, which will be even more evident in the second round. Voters will choose between anti-Petrismo and anti-Uribismo. However, Botero mentioned that Duque’s supporters were much more unified compared to Petro’s base, and if this continues, Duque is sure to win. If this does indeed occur, former president Uribe, and Duque’s mentor, may dictate what happens with the peace process with the FARC and consolidate and minimize the role of the judiciary. Botero was particularly concerned about these challenges to liberal values and institutions.

Next, Iragorri further elaborated on the failure of traditional parties in receiving the population’s support. Parties such as Cambio Radical and Partido Liberal received only half the amount of votes compared to past elections. Although many are speaking of a dissolution of the political system in the country, Iragorri believes that political parties have not disappeared but have instead changed. The support Duque has received from the right, amid disagreements, and the personality of Duque himself, have allowed the party to thrive in this election. Iragorri believed that no other candidate from the right would have been able to reproduce Duque’s success. Given the current polls and predictions, and although Petro has led a very successful campaign, Iragorri suggested that Duque will win because voters believe he is the most stable candidate.

Schechter began by expressing his disappointment in the campaign of centrist candidate Sergio Fajardo who narrowly lost a spot in the second round. For him, it proves that campaigns are indeed important, and that Fajardo’s stubbornness had exacerbated the already-present polarization in the country. Regarding the second round, Schechter agreed with the panelists that Duque will win because he meets the requirements that voters are looking for: someone young that has not been highly involved in politics. For the first time, the Colombian people believe that the political system is corrupt. Schechter forecasts dramatic changes, no matter who comes out on top.

The panel then opened up for questions from the audience which included the rise of populism, the fear that Duque will be a puppet of Uribe, and the reconstruction of Colombia following an incomplete peace process. All panelists believed that there is a lack of credibility in the political and economic system, which explains the outcomes of the first round of elections. As Schechter put it, the common thread throughout the discussion was that Colombia will face tumultuous change, no matter the victor. However, many believed that the checks and balances in place will prevent catastrophic changes.  

Watch the full recording of this event here