Colombian presidential election, 1990

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Colombian presidential election, 1990

← 1986 27 May 1990 1994 →
  César Gaviria.jpg Alvarogomez1.jpg
Nominee César Gaviria Álvaro Gómez Hurtado
Party Liberal MSN
Home state Risaralda Bogotá
Popular vote 2,891,808 1,433,913
Percentage 48.2% 23.9%

Colombian Presidential Election Results, 1990.svg
Winner by department

President before election

Virgilio Barco Vargas

Elected President

César Gaviria

Coat of arms of Colombia.svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of

Presidential elections were held in Colombia on 27 May 1990.[1] In an election tarnished by violence, the result was a victory for César Gaviria of the Liberal Party, who received 48.2% of the vote.[2]

Historical Political Context of 1990 Election[edit]

The election of 1990 took place in the context of a long history of the tumultuous political environment of Colombia. After gaining independence in 1810, Colombian politics were dominated for thirty years by the conservatives, centrists, and federationists. Conservatives wished to maintain the role of the Catholic Church in society, centrists desired a centralized and powerful government with the authority to appoint leaders across the nation, and federationists wanted a nation composed of autonomous states joined by a central and limited government.[3] Eventually the Social Conservative Party (PSC) and Liberal Party (PL) gained prominence, respectively associated with the Catholic clergy and with the merchants/artisans.[4] After years of political violence and instability between the parties, they formed the National Front, which alternated office between the two every four years. This excluded leftist political organizations, prompting the formation of guerrilla groups like FARC, ELN, and the EPL in the 1960s followed by the April 19 Movement (M-19) in the 1970s.[4] Eventually, the elections opened up to competition, leading to 12 main parties competing for office in the 1990 election. This even included the then demilitarized M-19 candidate Antonio Navarro Wolff.


Colombia has a presidential, unitary system of government. The 1990 presidential election was the last to use a simple majority before the 1991 Constitution implemented a two-round, absolute majority system.

Colombia is a diverse nation. According to the 2005 census, 3.4% of its population was indigenous, 10.6% were Black/AfroColombian, and 0.06% were Roma. The remainder of the residents are mestizo or Caucasian Colombians.[5] Issues in the election of 1990 were not split among these racial lines, nor was the election split among major religious or cultural lines. Instead, the election was influenced heavily by political assassinations.

On 18 August 1989 Luis Carlos Galán, the Liberal Party's nominated presidential candidate and favourite for the election was assassinated. On 22 March 1990, Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa, the candidate of the Patriotic Union (UP), was assassinated, resulting in the UP pulling out of the elections. A third assassination occurred on 26 April, when the AD/M-19's candidate Carlos Pizarro Leongómez was killed. Pizarro was replaced by Antonio Navarro Wolff.[2]

César Gaviria won the nomination for the Liberal Party candidacy in primary elections carried out on the same day as the March 1990 parliamentary elections.

Although the election would ultimately be between the Liberal party’s Gaviria and the National Salvation Movement’s Alvaro Gómez Hurtado, both the Democratic Alliance M-19 and the Socialist Conservative Party held a considerable portion of the final votes. The Democratic Alliance M-19 candidate was Alvaro Navarro Wolff and the Socialist Conservative Party was represented by candidate Rodrigo Hernán Lloreda Caicedo.

Political Violence[edit]

On October 11, 1987, candidate Jaime Pardo Leal was assassinated. Then, the March 3, 1989 El Dorado airport attack then claimed the life of Unión Patriótica leader José Antequera and injured future president Ernesto Samper. The arguably most critical event took place on August 19, 1989 when Galán was shot on stage during a rally.[6] After these assassinations, it was César Gaviria who took Galán’s place as Liberal Party candidate for the presidency. A failed assassination attempt on Gaviria resulted in the bombing of Avianca Flight 203, claiming the lives of 107.[7] This event bolstered support for Gaviria, who took a hard anti-trafficker political stance and supported extradition of traffickers to prison in the United States. This was a blow to the drug lords, who had done their best to stop any pro-extradition candidate from getting into office.[8]

Campaign Environment[edit]

On March 11, 1990, the day of the primary election, M-19 announced their disarmament and quickly emptied their weapons, burned their uniforms, and turned in their rifles and machine guns to be melted down before abandoning their hideouts. They also signed a peace treaty with the current president, Virgilio Barco Vargas.They later inserted themselves into the election as a political party.[9]

After taking over Galán’s campaign, Gaviria secured a prominent 59.9% majority in the primary election, making him the Liberal party’s clear choice.[10] Throughout his campaign, which pushed for anti-drug trafficking policy, Gaviria set out for a presidency targeting a war against the drug lords plaguing Colombia. Out of all major campaigns, Gaviria made it most clear that he would make no accommodations for those involved in the industry.[11] However, Gaviria's anti-drug policies gained him numerous death and terror threats. Following Galán’s death, Gaviria became significantly less accessible. He hardly made public appearances and instead restricted his campaign almost entirely to television. He kept his apartment with barrels blocking the street, armed soldiers, sniffer dogs, and policemen checking all visitors with metal detectors. The political and social atmospheres were made tense with the threats of violence maintaining a strong hold over the perception of the election. But despite the tension, most were pleased with his nomination.

The majority of prior polling predicted that Gaviria would win the presidential election after exit polls, following his strong win as the ruling Liberal Party’s candidate, showed Gaviria with a large lead over his opposition Hernando Duran Dussan and Ernesto Samper.[12]


Candidate Party Votes %
César Gaviria Liberal Party 2,891,808 48.2
Álvaro Gómez Hurtado National Salvation Movement 1,433,913 23.9
Antonio Navarro Wolff Democratic Alliance M-19 754,740 12.6
Rodrigo Hernán Lloreda Caicedo Social Conservative Party 735,374 12.3
Regina Betancur de Liska Metapolitical Unitary Movement 37,537 0.6
Claudia Rodríguez de Castellanos Christian National Party 33,645 0.6
Oscar Loaiza Natural Party 9,468 0.2
José Agustín Linares Christian Democratic Party 9,048 0.2
Luis Carlos Valencia Socialist Workers' Party 8,168 0.1
Guillermo Alemán Ecological Orientation Movement 7,429 0.1
Jesús García Love for Colombia 2,411 0.0
Jairo Rodríguez 88 Meeting Movement 996 0.0
Invalid/blank votes 123,029
Total 6,047,566 100
Registered voters/turnout 13,903,324 43.5
Source: Nohlen


The election itself went smoothly, with no actual violence on election day. However, M-19 won 13% of the vote on its first time on the ballot. After the election, Gaviria promised to uphold a campaign pledge to give M-19 a Cabinet post.[9]

Prior to the 1990 election, Colombian citizens had been fighting for constitutional reform for many years. The 1990 Presidential election strongly helped in creating the new 1991 Colombian Constitution. In March 1990, university students called for voters to place an additional ballot in the March 1990 congressional elections if they wished for a new constitution. Over a million of said ballots were deposited. Additionally, the 1990 Presidential elections were the first that allowed Colombian voters to pick their presidential candidate from a "tarjeton", a card that had both the names and pictures printed of all presidential candidates available in the voting booth. This was a switch from prior elections where voters would walk into the voting booth with their candidate's ballot in hand, a practice long known to contribute to widespread vote-buying by local party bosses.

Following the elections, the Colombian National Constituent Assembly was created in the first semester of 1991 and was put in charge of reforming the constitution. On June 8, Gaviria and the Constitutional Assembly dissolved the 1990 voted in Congress and re-held elections on October 27, 1991. On July 4 the new Colombian Constitution was drafted and ratified by the Consistutent Assembly and combined almost two decades of political reform efforts by both presidents, parties, and citizens. Notable changes the new constitution created included modifying it so that a party only needed to win one seat in either the house of Congress or have one of its candidates win at least 50,000 votes to gain legal recognition, designating that the Senate would be elected nationally instead of on the departmental level, and incorporating unseen guarantees of indigenous rights that encompassed two reserved seats in the Senate as well as representation in Congress.[10]


  1. ^ Nohlen, D (2005) Elections in the Americas: A data handbook, Volume II, p306 ISBN 978-0-19-928358-3
  2. ^ a b Nohlen, p354
  3. ^ "Political and Economic History of Colombia". Retrieved 2017-04-06. 
  4. ^ a b "Political background - Colombia". Retrieved 2017-04-06. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Las elecciones en Colombia: Siglo XX." [1] Retrieved 2017-04-06
  7. ^ "Objectivo: Gaviria." [2] Retrieved 2017-05-06
  8. ^ "The Autumn of the Drug Lord." [3] Retrieved 2017-05-06
  9. ^ a b "Colombia polls inject new faith in democracy."[4] Retrieved 2017-04-06
  10. ^ a b "Elections and Events 1990-1994." [5] Retrieved 2017-04-06
  11. ^ "A Staunch Enemy of Drug Trafficking Is Favored to Be Colombia's Next President : Election: Violence is the main issue for voters. Front-runner Cesar Gaviria vows 'no concessions' to cocaine barons." [6] Retrieved 2017-04-06
  12. ^ "Colombian Election." [7] Retrieved 2017-04-06