BOGOTÁ ( Associated Press) — Elected President Gustavo Petro managed to turn the page and win a majority in the new Congress that took office on Wednesday, which will be crucial to carrying out his ambitious reforms, indicating that Colombia It was also the first government of the Left. Its history begins its term with parliamentary support, as has always been the case for the rulers of the time.
The bicameral Congress House of Representatives has 108 senators and 187 legislators, but unlike the previous one there will be 16 seats for victims of armed conflict for the first time, an unprecedented representation of the left and nearly 30% of seats occupied by women.
The recent elections saw a reorganization of the country’s political forces. Legislative elections were held in March and a second round in June saw Petro win the presidency, replacing the current conservative President Ivan Duque, who took power on 7 August.
In his final speech before Congress, Duke defended his management, saying he implemented programs looking for “equity” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused deaths, unemployment and poverty. During his speech he was praised by sympathetic Congressmen, defending the public force and businessmen, while opponents holding pictures of murdered social leaders shouted “liar” when he assured that his government had provided him with protection.
The outgoing president highlighted his program to legalize 1.8 million Venezuelan immigrants and reaffirmed his criticism of President Nicolas Maduro’s government, which he described as a “dictatorship”.
“We say to all Venezuelans that we are here who believe in institutions, and free elections are the only way to bring hope back to Venezuela,” said the Duke.
Analysts predicted a complex governance potential for the petro. Although he won 20 seats in the Senate with his historic treaty movement, did manage to have the largest bench, and 29 in the lower house, he needed political support from the center and the right to form a majority.
During the political campaign, Petro generated resistance in a segment of the population that distrusted his past as a rebel: he was a member of the extinct guerrilla M-19 in a country that had experienced decades of armed conflict with left-wing guerrillas. have experienced. In addition, he challenged the ruling class and proposed structural reforms in terms of pensions, taxes for the wealthiest sectors, land ownership and evacuation models.
However, with political compromises, he managed to get the most powerful of the traditional parties in his favor and several benches that did not support him in the campaign, such as the Liberal Party, led by former President César Gaviria, and one of the Part conservative party, with political views far from progressive and left-wing. Now the Green Party, the Independent Social Alliance and Commons, a party formed by former militias of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) of Colombia who laid down their arms in 2016, are joining.
Other centre-right parties such as La U or Cambio Radical have not yet defined whether they will join Petro’s coalition.
Universidad de la Sabana political analyst Johan Caldas told The Associated Press that both the “political agreement to take the initiative, as well as the distribution of positions, ended up forming a majority coalition.” However, retaining him throughout his government will be a challenge.
Although it is a left-wing government, Petro has made room for more political currents in the Council of Ministers, and Congress will also have a diverse board of directors and include people who recently joined the coalition.
“It is quite natural that government parties govern like all democracies,” Senator Roy Barreras told the Associated Press, denying that this is political patronage. Barreras is the new president of the Senate and is close to Petro.
For Barreras, the majority was achieved by Petro’s invitation to obtain a “national agreement” to initiate negotiations with the wider social, political and economic spheres.
In opposition were the staunchly political anti-Christian party and the conservative Democratic Center of Petro, led by former president lvaro Uribe Vélez (2002–2010).
“We are surprised because there are parties that are not ideologically related to Petro’s representation and now we see them as allies,” Democratic Center Representative Jose Jaime Uzcategui told the Associated Press. Rights of Opposition”.
“We’re going to defend the tooth and defend the Constitution, the law of the opposition, and the interests of the public force, which we see as a grave threat in this government,” Uzcategui said.
Although Colombia is a presidential country, analyst Caldas says, its power is not absolute and “limited not only by law, but also by pressure from political parties and institutions.”
Petro has proposed reforming the police, currently under the command of the Ministry of Defense, moving it to the Ministry of the Interior or Justice, and eliminating the group of riot police that usually intervene in social protests.
However, Barreras believes that the priority of the legislative agenda will be focused on the more than $10.9 billion tax reform, with which Petro seeks to obtain resources to finance the broader social programs promised to its voters. of, such as free university education, an “immediate plan in the first 100 days of the government against hunger and food subsidies.”
Those most affected by tax reform will be those with higher incomes. According to the new finance minister, Jose Antonio Ocampo, in an interview with the Associated Press would be the “richest 1%”, that is, those with a monthly income of more than 10 million pesos ($2,100), with income tax. He also assured that property tax will come back only for individuals and tax benefits will be reduced for some sectors.
“There will be a lot of resistance from the privileged financial and banking economic sectors and unproductive land landlords, who will have great lobbying capacity to try to block the social reforms that the Petro government will undertake,” said Barreras, which is a tough reform he has called. proposed to lead a faster process that touches pockets amid rising inflation.
In parallel, Patrismo proposes promoting a comprehensive rural reform that prioritizes food sovereignty and help for farmers, a political reform against corruption, police reform and the creation of a Ministry of Equality, which will be headed by Vice President Francia Marquez. . , , the first Afro-descendant to hold the position.
It will also bet on a project that seeks to regulate the use of coca leaves, poppy seeds, mushrooms and their derivatives for adult and medicinal use.
Petro seeks to communicate and submit to justice with armed groups still living in Colombia, such as the Guerrilla National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Clan del Golfo Cartel. Along the same lines, Senator Barreras sent a message to violent people on Wednesday, assuring Congress would “give them an opportunity” through “necessary adjustments to the justice system” or regulatory provisions that facilitate their submission.
But above all, the challenge before the new Congress is to improve the image of the citizens. There has been an increase in Congress’s unfavorable opinion since 2010, according to the Invmer survey conducted periodically since 2000. In the final measure, with 1,200 surveys conducted between June 30 and July 10, 73% has an unfavorable image compared to legislative power. 19% favorable opinion.
Jason Gomez, a taxi driver from Bogota, considers it unfair that Congressman earns a millionaire salary of about $7,800 a month, while he works more than 12 hours a day in transportation and only 465 for his family of four. Dollars earn per month.
A group of congressmen will introduce a reform in Congress in the coming days that will include reducing pay, limiting re-election of Congressmen to more than three terms, and reducing vacations and absenteeism. Similar projects have failed in the past.
“Whoever wants more,” Gomez told the Associated Press. “They are not going to allow their pay to be reduced, because they are the ones who make the law.”