Hours ahead of the inauguration of Colombia’s new Congress this Wednesday, President-elect Gustavo Petro met Tuesday afternoon with a key person he needed to secure majorities in the legislature: Dilian Francisca Toro, a former senator who currently heads the U , a bench that has belonged to Uribismo and Santismo for decades and has now jumped to the Petrismo project. “Achieving a great national agreement for the forgotten should unite us as a country,” Toro wrote on his social media after the meeting, along with a photo smiling with Petro. “It’s a purpose we share with the President Gustavo Petro, with whom we are working today to build an agenda for social and political peace,” he added. Two hours before midnight, the La U bank confirmed to the media that they will be the government.
With the support of La U’s congressmen, the president-elect manages to consolidate his party coalition: he has the support of 63 out of 108 senators and 106 out of 188 MPs in the chamber. A paradox is that La U, a party founded in 2006 thanks to former President Álvaro Uribe, Petro’s major political opponent, will now play a key role in approving the ambitious left-wing reforms that the president-elect promised during the election campaign .
La U’s accession is a victory for Petro, but also for one of his key allies during the campaign, Senator Roy Barreras, a politician who is now a member of Petro’s Historical Pact Party and who is sure to be elected President of the Senate this Wednesday. Barreras was a congressman for La U from 2010 to 2020, he was also president of this party, he supported Uribe’s strong hand, but also the peace process of former President Juan Manuel Santos. Although Barreras resigned from the community in 2020, he is now among political bishops who have been meeting with other parties all week to guarantee majorities for Petro. “I received instructions from the President to build parliamentary majorities,” he told EL PAÍS last week. A few hours after running for Senator, he succeeded.
The path did not look so easy for Petro in March when the general elections were held, two months before the presidential election. Although the historic compact managed to elect one of the largest benches in the House and Senate, it still did not have the majorities: 20 senators and 28 representatives. But after being elected president in June, Petro’s high popularity has worked in his favor, and he and his political allies have held a marathon of inter-party meetings to garner the support they need.
The most obvious came first. Progressive parties like the Green Alliance declared themselves part of the governing coalition, ideologically very similar to the Comunes, the party of the extinct FARC, which has the right to 5 seats in both chambers. But the first big win came last week, the July 13th, when the Liberal Party announced that it would become part of the governing coalition. Petro and Liberal Party leader César Gaviria had several disagreements ahead of the presidential election, and Gaviria always ended up in the opposite corner of the president-elect, despite some of his congressmen already supporting the historic pact. With the arrival of the entire Liberal faction, Petrism won 14 more seats in the Senate and 33 in the House of Representatives after the president’s election victory. They weren’t a majority yet, but they were a millimeter away from reaching it.
The final effort then took place around the three major parties, who could not yet decide between independence, government or opposition (under Colombian law they have until September 7th to declare themselves for one of these three options). Alongside La U was the Conservative Party, with 15 senators and 27 MPs, where the militants and their directors were divided on the issue: the president of the party that wanted to go into opposition resigned, and the new director was in some cases closer to the idea of supporting the government. You haven’t decided yet.
There is also Radical Change (11 senators, 18 MPs) where several congressmen would rather be in opposition, but the party’s president, Germán Vargas Lleras, has met with Petro to reach some agreements. “I welcome the invitation to dialogue,” wrote Vargas Lleras in a pillar. “I am sure that the political parties and movements will listen carefully to the proposals and seek the necessary consensus.” But for now they remain among the undecided.
The only party that, as might be expected, has openly declared itself in opposition is the Democratic Center, led by former President Álvaro Uribe, which has 13 senators and 16 MPs. Less than 24 hours before the new Congress was installed, the party released a statement explaining its reasons.
“We will oppose the government’s policy of high taxes that degrade our production system,” he says of tax reform. “We will protect the agricultural sector from expropriation”, on a possible agrarian reform, although Petro has repeatedly promised that he will not intend to expropriate. He also says they will protect the state’s austerity measures – against the creation of new bureaucracies – and that they will monitor what they see as “threats to the institution of the police force” as the President-elect has said that this institution must run left by the Department of Defense.
However, the Uribistas enter the new legislature without their natural leader, former President Uribe, who was a senator in the previous Congress until he resigned his seat when a criminal investigation against him progressed. So far, the Democratic Center has been one of the most cohesive groups in Congress — unlike the Liberal group, who now support Petrism — but they need to show how united they can be without Uribe in the Senate.
The other who has hinted that he will be in opposition – although he has also met with Petro – is former presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernández, who was defeated in the second round but has the right to a seat in the Senate, because he is elected second best presidential candidate. “My obligation will be to oppose it,” wrote on social media when he received his congressional pass. However, in the first year of the legislature, which begins today, the opposition will enter the new government as a minority. A few hours after the inauguration of the new Congress, Petro reached the coalition that had been functioning for months.
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