By Jorge Gil Angel
Bogota, Mar 9 (EFE).- Colombians will head to the polls on Sunday to vote in legislative elections that will completely renew the upper and lower houses of Congress and have a major bearing on the next president’s governability.
Since the last parliamentary elections in 2018, social unrest and an uptick in violence in different regions have altered the political landscape and, according to some experts, could lead to a reduced number of congressional seats for conservative and center-right parties.
A total of 934 candidates have registered to compete for 108 Senate seats, five of which have already been set aside for the Commons – the political successor to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombian (FARC) guerrilla group – under the terms of a 2016 peace agreement.
Meanwhile, 1,498 candidates are seeking the 188 seats up for grabs in the House of Representatives, 16 of which have been set aside for representatives of “special transitional electoral districts for peace” that were established in 2021 to promote the participation of historically excluded populations in conflict-ridden areas.
The Commons also is guaranteed five lower-house seats.
Much of the attention will be on the performance of the leftist Historic Pact for Colombia (PHxC) coalition of former leftist guerrilla and ex-Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro, who leads in the polls ahead of the May 29 first round of presidential voting.
A great deal of interest also surrounds the ruling conservative Democratic Center (CD) party, which won the most Senate seats (19) of any single party and the second-most lower-house seats (32) in 2018.
But this time around the CD’s founder, former President Alvaro Uribe, will not be on his party’s list of candidates.
Violent protests in 2018 and social unrest last year, when thousands took to the streets to denounce conservative President Ivan Duque’s socioeconomic policies, have raised expectations for a political shakeup.
Patricia Muñoz, a research faculty member at Bogota-based Universidad Javeriana’s Political Science and International Relations Department, told Efe there is a “moderate expectation” that the protests and the pandemic-triggered economic disruptions will change the composition of the legislature.
Andres Davila, who is also a professor at that same university, said he expects significant gains for PHxC but does not foresee a seismic shift in Congress due in large part to voter abstention, which he believes will remain at its high historical level of roughly 50 percent.
“What we saw in the ‘national strike’ was not something minor, nor insignificant, but what’s interesting in the Colombian case is the difficulty in politically channeling” the passions that motivated those protests, he said.
In that regard, he said leftist candidates on the campaign trail have not used the social protests to their benefit in the same way that politicians in Chile did prior to the November 2021 general election there.
“I don’t think Historic Pact will succeed in breaking the hold of the center right. They may win a few more seats, they may carry a bit more weight, but that weight won’t be decisive,” Davila said.
He added that the situation in Colombia is far from what exists in Chile, where a left-leaning constitutional convention is drafting a new charter to replace the one promulgated under Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship.
Beyond the outcome of Sunday’s elections, Muñoz said the primary task of the new Congress will be to rebuild trust.
Citizens must have “more faith (that they) can channel their demands through Congress, and that (lawmakers) can effectively represent the interests of the majority,” she added. EFE