Petro majorities in congress

By: Ernesto Medrano, Research Assistant

Research Line on Democracy and Governance

Translation by: María Victoria Ramírez


Despite the fact that parties such as the Liberal and the Conservative did not support the presidential candidacy of Gustavo Petro, in recent days the leaders and members of the parliamentary groups of these parties have made the decision to approach the new government and have made declarations on how they are going to move in Congress.


The change in the political map in Colombia may be due to several reasons. One of them is that since 2018, Gustavo Petro has moderated come of his government proposals. Likewise, the immediate future of the traditional parties requires the approval of the next government, since in 2023 they will compete for mayors, governorships, councils and assemblies. And additionally, Petro has stated "the change is in the reforms", making it clear that he does not despise any type of rapprochement with the traditional parties and forces, as long as he fulfils his government program.


In this new political scenario, Petro has managed to build majorities in Congress, not only with the support of the alternative parties, but also of the large traditional political structures. Four years ago, the parties Centro Democrático, Cambio Radical, el Partido Liberal, el Partido Conservador y el Partido de la U (Democratic Center, Radical Change, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and the U Party) totalled 77 seats, corresponding to 71% of the Senate. Today these same parties barely reach 63 seats, which represent 58% of the Senate. Faced with the slight decline of the parties, Petro has obtained the support of some so that they are government parties and that others do not declare themselves directly in opposition, which would allow him to consolidate the legislative projects.


Why do the parties declare themselves in government, independent or opposition?


According to the Statute of the Opposition in Colombia, the political parties have three possibilities: they declare their position against the National Government, they are in favour of government, independent or in opposition. The general objective of the statute is to guarantee political parties opposed to the government full participation in the decisions of the executive. The State is in charge of guaranteeing all political organizations the exercise of opposition, including mobilization and social protest. The members of the opposition will be able to communicate, publicize and determine, or control, the actions of the government. For their part, the independent parties will be able to move according to their interests and the parties that declare themselves in government will support and be involved in the legislative development led by the government.


The government parties


Among the parties that will accompany the Pacto Histórico in Congress to carry out the reforms are the Partido Liberal, la coalición Verde-Centro Esperanza, el partido Comunes (Liberal Party, the Green Centre coalition, the Comunes party), the indigenous parties, most of the representatives of the peace seats and great part of the minority parties.


The Liberal Party, led by former president Cesar Gaviria, announced support for the new government. While the Alianza Verde Party, which leads the Green Coalition-Centro Esperanza, reported that it will be the government party, to carry out the Great National Agreement proposed by Gustavo Petro. Additionally, the Comunes party (formerly FARC) and several representatives of the peace seats have announced their support for the new president, and their support for the fulfilment of the incoming government’s legislative agenda.


There have been sharp differences in the Conservative Party, however, in a letter to Gustavo Petro, the caucus stressed the importance of "historical responsibility" and announced its support for the new government. In the letter, 14 senators and 25 elected representatives to the Chamber showed their support in the legislative body for the new president Petro.


Twitter message of Gustavo Petro to the Conservative Party: “Welcome Conservative Party to the National Agreement. You will be building history if backing up the legislative projects of the Change Government. The soul of Alvaro Gómez Hurtado relieves in the Agreement on the basics”.

Thus, the Conservative Party would become one of the ruling parties, despite repeated calls by the party's president, Omar Yepes, to maintain ideological fidelity. In fact, after the letter of support for the new government was published, Yepes announced his resignation.



Independent parties


The parties that have already declared themselves as independent are: the MIRA Party (political party of religious basis). It will support the initiatives that they consider beneficial for the country; Rodolfo Hernández and his League of Governors Anticorruption movement and the Cambio Radical party. Although Germán Vargas Lleras has made rapprochements with Gustavo Petro, there is still no clear position of the party regarding the next government and the legislative initiatives.


Dilian Francisca Toro, president of the Partido de la U, announced the party will be part of the government in the designation of the executive boards of Congress with the aim of "reaching agreements and consensus in the search for initiatives that contribute to the well-being of Colombians, the development and construction of the country”. However, this does not mean that the party will act as the government party in the processing of legislative initiatives presented by the new government, but it will not be in opposition.


In opposition


The only party that would declare itself in opposition to the government of Gustavo Petro would be the Centro Democrático party. Despite the fact that several congressmen have argued that Rodolfo Hernández should be an opponent of the Petro government, the former presidential candidate and next senator made it clear that he would be independent.


In the case of the Oxygen Green party, which declared itself in opposition to the Petro government and has the endorsement of Senator Humberto de la Calle, it would not interfere with the senator's support for the government, since it came to Congress through the Green Coalition -Centro Esperanza, which declared itself a government coalition.


How would the forces in Congress be?


Giving the declarations made by the political parties and President Gustavo Petro, the Great National Agreement is a tool to leverage the legislative initiatives of the new government. The economic and peace reforms that have been considered a priority for the new government will have to pass through the legislature, and will be led by the president of the Senate, Roy Barreras.

The fundamental reforms of Petro's government program depend on legislative support. For this, it is necessary for the government to reach majorities in Congress, because to pass bills that require qualified majorities, at least two-thirds of the votes are needed.


Senate of the Republic


In the Senate, the political forces that will accompany the incoming government would add 69 congress members. This if one takes into account the recent call by an important sector of the Conservative Party to support the government's initiatives. The Senate would look like this:




Taking into account that Humberto de la Calle maintained that he will be independent and that a senator from the Conservative Party, of the 15 that the party has, did not sign the letter sent by the caucus, the government would have the support of 67 senators in the discussions in the Congress, but when it comes to voting on the initiatives, the congressmen will have to do so according to the condition of the party. In other words, Petro would have 69 government senators. Meanwhile, the opposition would be led by the Centro Democrático, and independence would group mainly two strong parties: the Party of the U and Radical Change.


Low Chamber


As in the Senate, Gustavo Petro would reach majorities in the Low chamber. With the support of the Liberals, Conservatives and at least 12 representatives of the Special Transitory Circumscriptions of Peace (CITREP), Petro would consolidate a total of 127 representatives who would support government initiatives. This, while they project that would allow them to operate as a bench is reconciled, which means that the 16 representatives could be a government bench.




The full Congress


With the recent declarations of the Conservative Party, the arrival of the Liberals, the decision of the Green Alliance and the closeness of the CITREP representatives, Gustavo Petro has managed to build majorities, both in the Senate and in the Chamber. On average, Petro would have approximately 64% of Congress: 195 congress members of 296.




However, due to party discipline, it is expected that all the congress members of the political parties that declare themselves as government parties support the decisions of the caucus. In other words, if the party declares itself in government, the congressmen would have to build and support the legislative initiatives.


It is clear that governance is essential to achieve the reforms of the next government, where economic reforms, the electoral system, the health system and the implementation of the Peace Agreements have been declared as priorities. Especially if one takes into account that the government of President Duque had only managed to approve in Congress 35 of the 112 legislative initiatives presented up to May. For this reason, the coalition that would be forming the new government in Congress would already have majorities and would be seeking to expand them, with the possible arrival of the Partido de la U, with which the government would ensure the support of more than 200 parliamentarians. All of this, if the Partido Conservador decides to join the government coalition definitly.