Colombian President Gustavo Petro (C) participates in a ceremony to open the regional and local elections in Bogota, Colombia, on 29 October 2023. EFE/ Mauricio Dueñas Castañeda

Colombia’s Petro says ‘a new scenario is opening up’ after regional election setback

Bogotá, 30 Oct (EFE).- The results of Sunday’s mayoral and gubernatorial elections in Colombia are a setback for the leftist government of President Gustavo Petro, who has expressed his willingness to work with the incoming leaders of other political parties in the face of this “new scenario.”

“A new scenario is opening up. As president, I will engage with all local leaders,” Petro said in a message on social media, reiterating what he said in a speech on Sunday night after learning the results of the regional elections.

Petro’s party, the Historic Pact, was last year’s top vote-getter in both the Senate (where it won 2.3 million votes) and the House of Representatives (more than 2.5 million). Petro himself received more than 11 million votes in the run-off election on 19 June, including 2.2 million in Bogotá alone.

And while it is true that the Historical Pact did not field candidates nationwide, some of that strength has faded, especially in Bogotá, where its mayoral candidate, former senator Gustavo Bolívar, who is very close to Petro, came in third with 571,591 votes, barely a quarter of what the president got last year.

Defensiveness and self-criticism

Beyond the conciliatory tone, Petro was on the defensive on social media on Monday.

“Not only has the government coalition won in nine departments, it is fighting for the tenth,” he insisted, alluding to the pro-government parties that won regional elections.

But according to the president, “the advance of the government forces in the west of Colombia is gigantic” and “in Nariño and Cauca alone, the two governorships and 40 mayorships were won”, referring to a region of majority Afro-Colombian population on the Pacific coast.

However, the results published by the National Registrar’s Office show that in Cauca, Jorge Octavio Guzmán of the La Fuerza del Pueblo coalition, which includes pro-government parties, was elected governor, while the Pacto Histórico candidate, Juan Diego Castrillón, came third.

In a different tone, Bolívar, the candidate running in Bogotá, admitted on Sunday that “centralism” had “killed” the left-wing movement and that it would have to reorganize itself. “We have to go around the country and pick up the broken pieces of the historical pact,” said the former telenovela scriptwriter, conceding defeat.

The new regional and local leaders will take office on January 1 for the period 2024-2027, and the president has promised to receive them and work to articulate local proposals with the National Development Plan.

In the meantime, they must work on the transfer of responsibilities. The mayor of Bogotá, Claudia López, will receive this Monday her successor, the elected Carlos Fernando Galán, of the New Liberalism Party, who said today that he has “the task of uniting society, restoring confidence in politics and institutions, and taking decisive steps so that Bogotá can walk safely.” EFE