• Six candidates are vying for the presidential office, though according to the latest polls only three are in contention to move on to the runoff election.
  • The leftist candidate, Gustavo Petro, has consistently led in the polls, but lacks the support needed to win a first-round victory.
  • Whoever wins the presidency will have to work with a divided Congress in which no party is dominant and in which the majority of seats are held by market-friendly parties.

On Sunday, May 29, Colombia will hold the first round of the presidential elections, with six candidates running for the presidency (tables 1 & 2)—though, according to the latest polls, only three are in contention to move to the runoff election. The leftist candidate, Gustavo Petro, has consistently led the polls, but without sufficient support to win the election in the first round. Meanwhile, the candidate for the centre-right, Federico Gutiérrez, gained momentum after the primary elections, but his support (measured by voter intention) stagnated in recent weeks. In third place, the independent candidate, Rodolfo Hernández, suddenly spiked in the latest polls and now has a strong chance to move to the run-off election.

Key points to consider ahead of Sunday’s vote include:

  • The March 13 primary elections to choose the candidates of each coalition helped us get some sense of voting trends ahead of the first round (chart 1). In particular, of voters who voted for senate (17.7 million people), the leftist coalition led by Gustavo Petro secured 5.85 million votes (33%), the centre-right coalition led by Federico Gutiérrez got 4.15 million votes (23.4%), and the centre-left coalition led by Sergio Fajardo garnered 2.29 million (12.9%). Interesting to note that there were 5.5 million people who didn’t vote for any coalition, representing 30.8%.

  • The turnout for the congressional elections was 46.5%. For Sunday’s election, the electoral census identifies 39 million eligible voters. With a similar turnout to that observed in the congressional vote, which is comparable to the historical turnout, a candidate would need more than 9.1 million votes to win in the first round.
  • What happened in the 2018 presidential election? Iván Duque led the first round getting 7.6 million votes (39.3%), while Gustavo Petro got 4.9 million votes (25.1%). These results were similar to survey results, which showed Duque leading with 41.5% and Petro with 29.5% of voter intentions. The big surprise came from Sergio Fajardo, who despite his 16% of voter intentions showing in the polls got 4.6 million votes, very close to Gustavo Petro. In the runoff, Petro increased his voters to 8.1 million (41.8%), while Duque garnered 10.4 million votes.
  • What is different this time? Voter intention surveys consistently show Gustavo Petro in the lead, but without the support needed to win a first-round victory. Federico Gutiérrez and Rodolfo Hernández are running neck and neck for the runoff position, so that a “photo finish” in the race to be the second candidate in the runoff is likely.
  • In Sunday’s vote, it is key to see the distance between the first and the second candidate, since it will give some sense of potential leadership in the runoff. We learned from the 2018 elections, that if Gustavo Petro gets more than 40% of vote intention, he would be a more solid candidate to get the presidency.

Regardless of who competes in the final round, we emphasize that the Congressional vote showed that the next president will need to be pragmatic and capable of negotiating with a divided Congress in which no political party is dominant and in which a majority of seats are held by traditional (market-friendly) political forces.

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