Fajardo and Gutiérrez lead the polls to face Petro for the presidency of Colombia | International

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The three candidates best positioned in the polls in Colombia: Gustavo Petro, Federico Gutiérrez and Sergio Fajardo.

The presidential campaign in Colombia enters its decisive stage. The long road to the Casa de Nariño begins to clear this Sunday, when the three great coalitions – left, center and right – define their candidates in an unprecedented pulse. The so-called inter-party consultations, which have become a kind of primaries, coincide with the elections to Congress. With the leftist Gustavo Petro consolidated for months as the rival to beat, in the other two blocks the panorama seems much more close: Sergio Fajardo is his closest pursuer in the polls and reaches this final stretch as the favorite to lead the Coalition Centro Esperanza, while Federico Gutiérrez appears –by a narrower margin– at the head of the preferences in the Team for Colombia, the alliance most tilted to the right.

Although the atomized political landscape and the dynamics of the coalitions make any forecast difficult, the two surveys that have been released this March – from the Invamer and Guarumo firms – point to confirming that favoritism. Only between those three large blocs there are fifteen presidential candidates for now, and the consultations will also serve as a thermometer of the strength of each coalition. On the left, Petro has exhibited his dominance and any surprises are ruled out. In the center, which has overcome countless crises, Juan Manuel Galán and Alejandro Gaviria are still looking to overtake Fajardo in the final stretch. And on the right, with a considerable territorial deployment, the forces have been more distributed between 'Fico' Gutiérrez and the questioned Alejandro Char.

Petro glimpses a victory in the first round

The Historical Pact, a motley left-wing alliance that has made room for several traditional politicians, is tailor-made for Petro, the former mayor of Bogotá who four years ago lost in the second round to President Iván Duque and has been campaigning since then. Formally, Petro competes with environmental leader Francia Márquez, former Nariño governor Camilo Romero, Wayú indigenous leader Arelys Uriana, and Christian Alfredo Saade. But his dominance is overwhelming, with 81.6% in Guarumo's measurement and 78.6% in Invamer's, compared to 10.5% and 13.5% for Márquez, respectively.

The left-wing bloc is conceived as the true option for change in Colombia. With Petro consolidated as a candidate, the mechanism to elect his formula for the vice presidency has been a source of friction. Although he had publicly promised that the person who came second in the consultation would accompany him, several spokesmen for the Historical Pact have indicated that this will no longer be the case, and it could be decided based on political agreements to bring other sectors closer together.

In the latest general polls, Petro has exceeded 40% of the preferences, which brings him closer to the possibility of winning in the first round on May 29, for which he would need to add more than half of the votes. Otherwise, the two most voted candidates will dispute a second round on June 19. "A consultation is not only to define a candidate," Petro defended last month in the debate organized by Caracol Radio and EL PAÍS. "If we win against the other consultations, we would be ensuring to win the presidency perhaps in the first presidential round."

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Fajardo defends his advantage

The expectation has largely been transferred to the other blocks, with more competitive scenarios. The Hope Center Coalition reaches the elections without completely overcoming the disagreements that have characterized it. The original agreement, which contemplated that they would campaign together in a "fraternal and loyal" manner, has been in question. Although the unit has been elusive, everyone is aware of the precedent of 2018, when Sergio Fajardo did not want to measure himself in a consultation – while Duque and Petro did – and was left out of the second round by a narrow margin. In a country that has been trapped in polarization for years, and at a time when exchange rates are on the rise, the center is presented as the option for a calmer and less traumatic transformation than the one proposed by the Historical Pact.

Fajardo, who has been mayor of Medellín and governor of Antioquia, usually appears second in general polls. But to establish himself as Petro's eventual rival in a second round, he must first ensure victory within his block. Invamer gives him 37.8% of the voting intentions, followed by former senator Juan Manuel Galán (23.9%), former Governor of Boyacá Carlos Amaya (14.9%), former Minister of Health Alejandro Gaviria (12, 9%) and Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo (10.5%). In this measurement, however, Fajardo and Galán have fallen, while all the others have risen compared to the end of last year. In the Guarumo survey, Fajardo has 37.5%, Galán 22.1% and Gaviria 21.5%. At the head of the reborn New Liberalism, which has its own list for the Senate, Galán could benefit from this boost, while Gaviria has garnered various political supporters that the polls do not always reflect.

Fico Gutierrez leads Alex Char

On the right, another former mayor of Medellín, Fico Gutiérrez, has taken some distance in what seems like the most disputed candidacy. The Team for Colombia shaped the early alliance of former mayors between Gutiérrez, Alex Char (Barranquilla) and Enrique Peñalosa (Bogotá), who were joined by the candidate of the Conservative Party, David Barguil, and Aydeé Lizarazo, of the MIRA party, of Christian roots. Against all odds, the alliance left out Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the candidate of the Democratic Center, the government party founded by former president Álvaro Uribe. Gutiérrez enjoys sympathy in Uribismo, but it is uncertain in what percentage the voters of the Democratic Center will accompany him without him formally being their candidate.

Despite exhibiting cohesion, the Team for Colombia has been shaken by allegations of corruption and vote buying that have shaken Alex Char's aspirations, and that also include his family. In the debate on Caracol Radio and EL PAÍS, everyone agreed to defend the presumption of innocence of the former mayor of Barranquilla, who continues to score strongly in the polls. In the Invamer measurement, Gutiérrez leads (28.9%), followed by Char (24.7%), Peñalosa (18.7%), Barguil (15.5%) and Lizarazo (12.3%). In Guarumo, Gutiérrez has 33.4% and Char 29.2%, ahead of Barguil (21.4%) and Peñalosa (11.8%).

The three candidates that emerge from the consultations of the large blocs will reach the first round with that momentum, in which they will compete with other candidates who have remained on the sidelines of the coalitions, at the risk of being overshadowed by the dynamics of debates and consultations. . Among them Zuluaga, for a Democratic Center that is going through its lowest hours; Ingrid Betancourt, who noisily left the Centro Esperanza Coalition to go for her party, Verde Oxígeno; and Rodolfo Hernández, the former mayor of Bucaramanga who seeks to present himself as the outsider of the campaign and so far he has alternated second place in the polls with Fajardo.

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