Bogotá’s elections

By: Felipe Salazar, MPP 2020, former advisor to congress in Colombia

The first time “Bogotanos”, the citizens of Bogotá, Colombia, could vote for mayor was in 1988. Since then ten other elections have taken place, but few, if any, have had an impact quite like the one carried out last Sunday. Bogotá’s mayor is considered the second most important public elected official in the country, so the election attracts many well-known political figures; most former mayors have run for president with one actually making it into the presidency and two runner ups. This makes for exciting elections and this one was not the exception. 

            After an election full of ups and downs where the polls indicated a close race, the results showed Claudia López had come up on top. Her election marks many firsts for a publicly elected mayor of Bogotá: the first woman, the first openly gay and the first with a PhD. She is known for her investigations on the relation between paramilitary groups and politicians as well as her fight against corruption, both of which led to threats sent her way. Consequently, she left the country and studied an MPA at Columbia University and a PhD in Northwestern from which she recently graduated; earlier this year she came to Harris to present her thesis on state building in Colombia. She has also been a Senator and Vice-presidential candidate in the past elections. 

            López was running against Miguel Uribe, a former Secretary of Government of Bogotá who was supported by the powerful ex-president Álvaro Uribe and most traditional parties. Another candidate was Hollman Morris a city councilman supported by former mayor and presidential candidate Gustavo Petro. There was also Carlos Fernando Galán, the runner-up in the closest race since the mayor is elected by popular vote, a former senator and Secretary of Transparency running as a center leaning independent. Uribe ran on a platform continuing the policies of current local government, Morris on a platform of full opposition, while Galán and López were in middle ground. 

In this election voters favored the moderate opposition of López over the full opposition of Morris and also the moderate support of Galán over the heads-on support of Uribe. The difference in results between López and Galán could be partly explained by the fact that Bogotá traditionally votes against the political tide. At a time when the president and current mayor lean to the right, voters seemed to prefer alternating to balance represented by López. This is reflected by the data, the sum of the votes from Morris and López is almost identical to the votes received by Petro in Bogotá in the past runoff election. On the other side, the sum of Uribe and Galan´s votes is similar to the votes received by President Duque in the same election.

Bogotá has made significant progress on education, health and poverty reduction in recent years, but there are still many more problems to solve. Mayor-elect López has some advantages on her side for this endeavor. Her party won more seats in the new city council than any other party and she will encounter many young and new faces in the city council. This seems like a good sign for city politics. However, that is not enough to form a majority, and she will need to build a coalition. 

An additional factor may influence her power in the council. A new law concedes runner ups a seat in their election’s corresponding legislative body. This will allow Galán to be a part of the city council where he started his political career in 2007, holds the record for most votes and helped uncover the biggest corruption scandal in the city’s recent history. He states he will support López in measures he considers favorable for the city, responsibly oppose when not, and help break political polarization. The latter has become more common in recent years. On the national level, having the runner up to the presidential election, Petro, in the senate has given the opposition more visibility and power than it would have without him; it is yet to be seen how this will play out on a local level.

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