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Colombia’s leftist President Gustavo Petro was dealt a blow in local elections, as opposition candidates swept ballots for mayor, governor and council member across the country.
Voters in all of Colombia’s major cities, including the capital, Bogota, rejected Petro’s allies in Sunday’s mayoral races, while only two of 32 provinces elected governors backed by his Historic Pact coalition.
“It is our duty as leaders to respect the voice of the people,” Petro, Colombia’s first leftist leader, said in a speech that focused largely on the peaceful conduct of the election following the announcement of the results. “We will work to clarify that [the winning candidates’] Campaign proposals so that together we can build a country that fights corruption and injustice and confronts the climate crisis.”
Carlos Fernando Galán, a centrist former senator who has some support from the opposition, has been elected mayor of Bogota, considered the second most important political office in the country. Gustavo Bolívar, a staunch ally of the president who finished third, described the result as a “punitive vote” for the government.
In Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city and opposition stronghold, former Mayor Federico Gutierrez replaced Petro’s ally. Gutierrez, a fierce Petro critic who previously led the city from 2016 to 2019, ran for president last year.
Petro, who in his youth was an organizer in the left-wing nationalist rebel group M-19, promised to wean Colombia off oil and transform its economic beliefs when he took office in August last year.
But since the progressive tax overhaul passed last December, his polarizing plans to overhaul health, pensions and labor laws have had difficulty gaining cross-party support in Congress, despite his coalition having significant blocs in both chambers. His approval rating stands at just 32 percent, according to local pollster Infamer, down from 56 percent when he took office.
Petro’s government and his family have also been embroiled in scandal, with his son Nicolas, also a politician, being arrested in July on money laundering charges amid an investigation into the presidential campaign’s finances.
The government has also been rocked by a scandal involving Petro’s former chief of staff and former campaign manager over allegations of eavesdropping on a former nanny.
April’s cabinet reshuffle replaced centrists, including respected Finance Minister José Antonio Ocampo, with the president’s allies.
Analysts said Sunday’s results were unlikely to force the president, whose administration as mayor of Bogota was similarly dysfunctional, to curb his ambitions. He often sparred publicly with mayors including Bogotá’s outgoing leader, Claudia Lopez, over the city’s under-construction metro system.
“It was a decisive defeat, but Petro and the historic pact remain strong in Congress,” said Jorge Restrepo, an economics professor at Javeriana University in Bogotá. “Petro will insist on his reforms and will strongly oppose the newly elected mayors and governors.”
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