Your Guide to the 2022 Colombian elections

By Emma Newbery May 22, 2022

Everything you need to know about the upcoming presidential election in Colombia.

The first round of the Colombian elections takes place on May 29. Photo by Arnaud Jaegers on Unsplash

Colombia has elected a new president: Gustavo Petro.

Our guide to the presidential elections covers the basics on how the voting works, what the two contenders stand for, and what else to expect. Plus, you’ll find links to all our coverage as we do our best to keep on top of the latest presidential election news.

How will the voting work in the upcoming Colombian election?

The incumbent, President Iván Duque, isn’t able to stand for reelection as Colombian presidents are only allowed to serve for one term. There were six contenders in the first round, and two — Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernández — won the most votes, taking them through to the second round. The elected president will then serve a four-year term.

If you haven’t been in Colombia during election time before, one thing you might find odd is that people often go back to their family homes or elsewhere for election weekend. This is because people can only vote in the polling station where they are registered – usually the one where they voted last time. You can update your registration, but people often forget or don’t bother to do so and end up having to go back home.

Another aspect of voting that people who are new to Colombia might find unusual is voto en blanco. This is a constitutionally recognised way to express dissatisfaction with any of the available options. If voto en blanco were to win a majority, it would trigger a new election with different candidates. Candidates would have ten days to throw their hats into the ring for new elections.

Can foreigners vote in Colombian elections?

If you have a residency (R-type) visa, you can register to vote in municipal and district elections. You can’t vote in the presidential elections, but you can have a say in how the area you live in is run. 

Who’s standing?

At one point there were almost 100 different presidential candidates, but that number has dwindled to two.:

t’s important to know that these candidates don’t really represent individual parties. There are various coalitions coalescing around one candidate. For example, over 15 parties formed the coalition behind Petro’s El Pacto Histórico coalition, making it more powerful than Petro’s Colombia Humana party alone.

What are the key dates?

Following the legislative elections in March, and the first round on May 29, there is only one date that really matter now: 

  • June 19: Voters will take to the polls for the second round of the Colombia election

Bear in mind that there’s always a Ley Secano alcohol rule – in Colombia for the whole voting weekend. You won’t be able to easily buy alcohol between 6 pm on the Saturday before and 6 am on the Monday after the vote, and sometimes the dry law is enforced even earlier.

What can we expect?

There’s a lot of nervousness around this election. There are rumours on all sides about vote manipulation, corruption, and potential violence, which only adds to the tension. Like many countries, Colombia is extremely polarised at the moment. There’s a fear that people might take to the streets – whatever the result. We’ve seen unprecedented levels of protest in the past four years, some of which turned violent last year when Human Rights Watch says at least 25 people were killed by police.

One consequence of the country’s historic pact with the FARC is that it’s allowed the growth of a political left – as evidenced by the fact that Gustavo Petro won 40% of the vote in the first round. Some are concerned because Colombia has never really had a left-wing president, and if Petro is elected there’s uncertainty about how both the establishment and armed groups might react. 

Sadly, Colombia is no stranger to political violence. Several presidential candidates have received death threats. The Financial Times reports, “The country is on edge,” citing rumours of a military coup or even a postponement of the election. It is hard to know how much of this anxiety is the result of is fear-mongering, similar to the 2018 election. 

Last time, the second round descended into a choice between Petro or “anyone but Petro” and it now looks like this scenario may be repeated in June. It’s now down to a race between Petro and Rodolfo — both candidates who represent change, but in very different ways.

What are the main issues?

After two years of pandemic and with rising economic uncertainty around the world, many Colombians are concerned about the economy. According to the Banco de Republica, in April, inflation reached over 9% year-on-year – the highest it’s been since 2000. Tax reform was violently rejected last year. While a watered-down version was passed, some sort of reform will be necessary soon. That’s guaranteed to be unpopular and controversial.

In addition to peace, which we’ll cover in more detail below, there are also concerns about health, poverty, corruption, and crime. Many feel that crime has worsened during the past four years, and hope that the new administration will be able to do more. 

Find out how the candidates stack up on key issues:

How will the presidential election impact the peace process?

What many people outside Colombia forget is that signing the peace agreement was only the beginning of a long journey towards peace. It takes time to end decades of conflict. What matters now is how it is implemented, how the country handles the illegal armed groups that have filled the vacuum left by the FARC, and how well former fighters are able to reintegrate into society. 

In many parts of Colombia people still face as much, if not more violence as they did before the peace deal. Carlos Ruiz Massieu, Head of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia recently said, “Violence is also exacting a particularly high toll on indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities in the form of killings, displacements and the increasing recruitment of minors.”

Iván Duque was one of the leaders of the ‘no’ campaign during the plebiscite, and he’s followed what’s at best a go-slow approach to implementation. As a piece in El Espectador put it, “The Duque government has been the object of serious questions regarding its asymmetrical commitment to the implementation of the Agreement.” A December report from the Kroc Institute showed that just 30% of the provisions in the agreement had been completely implemented.

Alll in all, this election illustrates divisions that have only grown in Colombia since the beginning of the peace process. Questions of inequality, a need for change, a fear of what shape that change might take, and a desire to protect the status quo make for a potent melting pot as Colombians head to the polls. 

Article updated following results of first round of voting.