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  • Writer's pictureDahlia Foundation

‘Rude awakening’: Elections seen as rebuke to Colombia’s Gustavo Petro

What a difference a year makes for Gustavo Petro. Just 14 months after his historic election win, Colombia’s first-ever leftist president is struggling.

His ambitious, wide-ranging reform proposals have lagged in Congress. His administration has faced a campaign finance scandal. And just last Sunday, on October 29, he was dealt a sobering defeat in Colombia’s local and regional elections.

Voters in the country’s major cities turned their backs on Petro’s candidates, voting instead for critics of his administration, particularly from the right and centre. Petro’s coalition Pacto Historico won governorships in just two of Colombia’s 32 departments.

Following the election results, Petro said it was his duty “to respect the voice of the people”.

But he has since tried to cast the results as a win for his administration, saying that many of the winning candidates were part of the coalition that brought him to power in the first place. Those candidates, however, largely ran independently in the local elections.

Experts say Petro’s spin on the elections is a way to see the glass half full. But there is little doubt that the poor results portend a difficult road ahead for the president — and his personality-driven political movement.

“Unlike with the other parties, his coalition is very personalistic,” Sandra Borda, a political analyst and professor at the University of the Andes, told Al Jazeera.

“Petro has not done the task of building a strong party, so while everything remains focused on him and him alone, it is very possible that elections will continue to go wrong [for him].”

One of the greatest defeats for Petro came in the capital Bogota, where one of his closest allies, Gustavo Bolivar, was running for mayor.

A youthful 58-year-old, Bolivar is a well-known writer of soap operas and a former senator. Yet, he placed third in the race, behind an independent candidate and a contender from the New Liberalism Party, who ultimately won the vote.

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