Colombia: President-elect wants to build coalition government

BOGOTÁ, Colombia (AP) – President-elect Gustavo Petro, who has vowed to help the poor and disenfranchised Colombians, has gained the support of an influential establishment party as he attempts to build a majority coalition in Congress.

Petro, a former mayor of Bogotá and member of the rebel group M-19 who was disarmed decades ago, has gained the support of the Liberal Party, which backed another candidate in the first round of Colombia’s presidential elections. Petro won the second round on Sunday as a blow to political traditionalists who have presided over Colombia for generations, through violence and corruption, as well as economic growth and institutional stability.

The decision of the Liberal party, led by ex-president César Gaviria, to join Petro’s Historic Pact group shows the pragmatic side of the president-elect as he makes political deals aimed at carrying out a ambitious legislative agenda that includes tax, agricultural, pension and other changes.

“We will not be an opposition party,” Gaviria said in a statement on Wednesday. Details are yet to be worked out regarding the Liberal party’s role in a governing coalition and how it might work with Petro’s 62-year-old camp, he said.

The Liberal Party is one of the largest factions in the bicameral parliament, with 14 senators in the 108-seat senate and 32 representatives in the lower house with 187 seats.

Petro’s Historic Pact has 20 seats in the Senate and 27 in the House of Representatives. A coalition with the Liberals and other allies would bring it closer to a parliamentary majority.

Sandra Borda, a political analyst at the University of Los Andes in Bogotá, said much remains unclear about Petro’s vision of a “national agreement” involving all sectors of society.

“We need to see what will be the content of the policies Congress will support, and in return for what,” Borda said. Foreign governments and international investors will be watching closely to see who chooses Petro as finance minister, which could indicate whether he plans to involve the state more heavily in the economy, she said.

About 47% of voters voted for real estate magnate Rodolfo Hernández, who lost to Petro in the second round. As the losing candidate, Hernandez was still assured of a Senate seat and said Thursday he would take it.

Petro will almost certainly face stiff opposition from the Democratic Center, the party founded by former president Álvaro Uribe. Current president Iván Duque, who by law was not allowed to run for a second term, is a member of the Democratic Center. He will hand over power to Petro on August 7.