Colombia: President Duque at risk of giving ground to opposition amid ongoing crises

Colombia: President Duque at risk of giving ground to opposition amid ongoing crises

With internal pressure mounting, Colombia’s president Iván Duque faces serious challenges halfway through his presidency. Recent polls suggest that domestic support is decreasing, leaving his party’s dominance in peril. If Duque can’t solve the ongoing domestic crises, the opposition is likely to gain ground before the elections in 2022.

The latest series of violent protests against police brutality, which left 13 dead and over 400 injured, evoked memories of both last year’s demonstrations in Colombia and the George Floyd protests in the United States. They are the most recent manifestation of growing domestic discontent with Colombia’s current administration and its president Iván Duque. The latter could face a strong political challenge from the opposition in the 2022 elections if he doesn’t solve the country’s persisting problems, most importantly the increasing violence and a shrinking economy.

Colombia’s success story in peril

Colombia is encountering these issues after a period of anticipated economic and political success. Until the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Colombia, the country was the fastest-growing main economy in Latin America, and murder rates were expected to drop to their lowest level since the 1970s.

However, the country is facing several developments that make an increase in discontent with the government highly likely. The ongoing effects of the pandemic and successive lockdown measures have taken a toll in 2020. According to the government statistics agency DANE, the national unemployment rate doubled to 20.2% in July, compared to 10.7% a year earlier. The country’s urban unemployment rate climbed to 24.7%, up from 10.3% in 2019. With nearly 70% of the national workforce living in urban areas, these figures suggest a huge impact on the domestic population. While national poverty had been falling since 2016, according to World Bank data it is now projected to increase to 28.9% in 2020.

With Colombia’s important oil sector producing only around 700,000 barrels per day, a near-decade low, it is estimated that the country’s economy will contract almost 8 % during 2020, according to data from the IMF. This contrasts with an economic expansion the year before. A reported 46 massacres since the beginning of the year and a surge in violence against human rights activists, in addition to the latest incidents of police brutality, are likely to contribute to growing public dissatisfaction.

Duque facing electoral challenges

The aforementioned indicators suggest a sharp decline both for the country and president Duque’s political fate. After a steep increase in April 2020 owing to the public focus shifting towards the pandemic response, Duque’s approval ratings are consistently decreasing. Recent events left him with a mere 38% approval rating in August 2020, a trend that is likely to continue.

President Duque’s success in the 2018 presidential election can mainly be attributed to his promises of an economic boost and a radical alteration of the 2016 Peace Accords. However, it is likely that he will continue to struggle to achieve these goals because of the country’s deteriorating security and economic performance. The ongoing inability to deliver economic prosperity and physical security for the Colombian electorate harbours considerable risk for his party’s political fortunes in the two years leading up to the 2022 elections.

Additionally, the continuing prosecution of former president Alvaro Uribe, who is deemed to have a major influence on Colombia’s current president, could cause instability within both Duque’s “Democratic Center” party and the administration. Because many voters still identify the Democratic Center with the increasingly unpopular Uribe, his prosecution could inflict further harm on the party.

Can the opposition benefit?

President Duque’s continuing political struggles are likely to benefit his most important opponent, Humane Colombia’s Gustavo Petro, who lost against Duque in the 2018 presidential elections. According to a mid-term presidential election poll from August, a third of respondents would vote for Petro, the highest number for any prospective candidate. The survey further suggests that president Duque’s party is severely marginalized, with some of its candidates even in 4th or 5th place.

Petro’s leftist stance and rhetoric, however, are regarded as radical among moderate voters. More moderate candidates, meanwhile, have struggled to get past the first round in previous elections and are therefore unlikely to pose a serious challenge to the sitting president. This is borne out by a Gallup poll from earlier this year that suggests that many see a serious opposition as unlikely to emerge. Petro only has a realistic possibility of winning the presidential elections in 2022 if he can convince both moderate voters and competing candidates to rally behind him.

Risk outlook

An economic crisis and violent social unrest, culminating in low electoral support for the sitting president, have created a window of opportunity for the opposition. Together with Colombia’s old problems of endemic corruption and a fragile peace, these new issues have a realistic possibility of persisting in the two years leading up to the 2022 presidential elections.

Due to the opposition’s structure, it is uncertain if growing discontent among the Colombian population will result in electoral success for president Duque’s contenders. However, if Duque can’t find answers to the country’s pressing problems in 2020, voters are likely to be pushed further towards the opposition within the second half of his tenure.

Categories: Latin America, Politics

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