Colombia: The president-elect appears to be building a governing coalition

Written by Javed Iqbal

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BOGOTÁ, Colombia – Elected President Gustavo Petro, who has promised to uphold Colombia’s poor and non-voting rights, has won the support of an influential party in the establishment as he seeks to build a majority coalition in Congress.

Petro, a former Bogotá mayor and member of the M-19 rebel group that disarmed decades ago, has won the support of the Liberal Party, which supported another candidate in the first round of Colombia’s presidential election. On Sunday, Petro won the second round in a battle against political traditionalists who have presided over Colombia for generations, through violence and corruption, as well as economic growth and institutional stability.

The decision of the Liberal Party, led by former President César Gaviria, to join Petro’s historic pact group shows the pragmatic side of the elected president as he enters into political agreements aimed at executing an ambitious legislative agenda that includes tax , agricultural, pension and other changes.

“We will not be a party of opposition,” Gaviria said in a statement on Wednesday. Details still need to be worked out about the role of the Liberal Party in a governing coalition and how it can cooperate with the 62-year-old Petro’s camp, he said.

The Liberal Party is one of the largest groups in the bicameral congress with 14 senators in the senate with 108 seats and 32 representatives in the lower house with 187 seats.

Petro’s historic pact has 20 seats in the Senate and 27 in the House of Representatives. A coalition with the Liberals and other allies would bring it closer to a parliamentary majority.

Sandra Borda, a political analyst at the University of Los Andes in Bogotá, said much is still unclear about Petro’s vision of a “national agreement” involving all sectors of society.

“We need to see what will be the content of the policies that Congress will support, and in exchange for what,” Borda said. Foreign governments and international investors will be watching closely to see who Petro elects as finance minister, which could indicate whether he plans greater government involvement in the economy, she said.

About 47% of voters voted for real estate magnate Rodolfo Hernández, who lost to Petro in the second round. As the losing candidate, Hernández was still secured a Senate seat and he said Thursday he would take it.

Petro is almost certain to face robust opposition from the Democratic Center, the party founded by a former president, Álvaro Uribe. The current president, Iván Duque, who was not allowed by law to run for another term, is a member of the Democratic Center. He hands over power to Petro on 7 August.

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Javed Iqbal

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