Duque to win Colombia’s presidency predicts political risk consultancy Eurasia Group

12 June 2018 Consultancy.lat 4 min. read

Iván Duque is well on the way to becoming the next president of the Republic of Colombia, having won 39.1% of the votes in the first electoral vote since the infamous peace process came to its completion last year. Duque was miles ahead of the center/leftist opposition, although the vote was not enough to get him elected and a second round of voting will take place on June 17.

The 2018 Colombian presidential elections have been a stunning round of partisan politics, largely centred around Santos’ peace process. The culmination of Latin America’s longest continuous armed conflict has left the country deeply divided, which is reflected in the country’s two standing candidates after the first round of voting – conservative Iván Duque and far-leftist Gustavo Petro. 

Whilst this form of political polarization is being discussed around the globe – with Italy being the latest to experience a populist shift – Colombia’s struggles are influenced by it’s violent past as well as it’s neighbours’ socialist experiences. Both of the candidates present Colombian voters with a choice that will opens old wounds, and that leaves little room for reconciliation. 

The history of alignment between the two candidates and their respective positions within the Colombian conflict will decide the election. Petro represents the leftist faction of society, and is a former member of urban armed reformist rebel movement M-19 as well as a strong proponent of the peace deal. Duque is a hardliner and conservative who stands under the umbrella of ex-President Uribe, representing the large traditional political class and has been accused of exacerbating the conflict by standing with the paramilitaries.

Both have taken opposing sides, signifying the fragility of the peace process and whichever way the country votes, there is a potential for discernible chaos. Ian Bremmer, founder of the Eurasia Group, a geopolitical management consulting firm that specialises in political risk has shared his thoughts on why Duque is likely to win. Bremmer and the Eurasia Group identify a few key aspects which will influence voters who are only bound together by one common theme – resilience.

Iván Duque is likely to become Colombia’s next president according to Eurasia Group founder, Ian Bremmer

The first factor comes under the guise of a common trend, i.e. apathy towards the political elite. Last year, the political donation scandal which sent shockwaves throughout Latin America came to the surface in Colombia tarnishing the entire electoral system. Whilst the two candidates have ascended to their positions in an unlikely way, which has allowed them to give the scandal a wide berth, Duque’s recent move into politics from the private sector – where he held a position as a strategy consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank – has allowed “him to credibly claim he stands apart from Colombia's disgraced elite.” 

Secondly, Colombia is a conservative electorate and has never elected a leftist president. This has been the basis of the rise of Petro, who is the first leftist presidential candidate since Luis Galán was assassinated on the campaign trail in 1989. Those who supported the revolutionary cause, those who are anti-establishment or on the social-progressive side of politics have waited thirty years for this moment. However, as Bremmer describes “Duque is pro-business and a security hawk. He has the backing of former president Uribe, [who is] still a popular figure among Colombia's conservatives.”

Business is also at the heart of the election, currently struggling with a low peso brought about by a decline in oil prices back in 2014. “Duque has billed himself as the pro-business candidate and has vowed to cut corporate taxes and support oil and mining projects to spur growth, all while slashing “unnecessary” spending and fighting tax evasion to get Colombia's books in order,” said Bremmer. 

He continues; “That has raised fears of a looming revenue gap. Petro, meanwhile, has focused on the country's rampant inequality and promised big spending increases on education and healthcare, while also vowing to simultaneously wean the country off its oil (and coal) dependency.” 

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is the current state of affairs in Venezuela. Having recently descended into chaos and transitioned from a democracy into what global leaders are calling a dictatorship, Venezuela is a major source of fear rattling Colombian voters. Colombia has accepted over 200,000 refugees from Venezuela in the past year alone (fleeing hunger and poverty) and voters are worried that if a socialist-led government wins, then they may face the same scenario at home. 

Duque and his political cohort have capitalised on this sentiment and likened Petro to Chaves, who paved the way for today’s Maduro Government. “For a country that has never voted for a leftist candidate, the association with someone like Chavez is a heavy burden,” concluded Bremmer.