Colombia’s congress is set to decide this week to either dump or approve a tax reform that has fueled anti-government protests and is fiercely criticized by economists.
Despite the broad rejection and its allegedly negative effects on government finances, the chances of the reform being approved are still very much alive.
Public pressure higher than ever
The parties will decide on their position while anti-government protesters led by labor unions, students and indigenous organizations are holding a protest in front of Congress.
The Liberal Party announced last week already that it would withdraw its support, abandoning the center-right voting bloc that initially said it would support the so-called “Growth Bill” of Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla.
The big question is whether the bloc’s remaining parties will maintain their support or also cede to public and expert pressure.
If they get cold feet and revoke their support, Duque will be suffering one of his most devastating defeats since taking office last year, a scenario the government has been trying to avoid at all costs.
The lobbying and weird moves
Following a secret meeting with Radical Change (CR) boss German Vargas a few weeks ago, the president was able to negotiate that party’s support.
Nevertheless, the party’s lawmakers said they would not decide until Monday, the day of the final votes and the last day before Congress goes on its three-month Christmas leave.
Whether individual lawmakers will obey their boss is far from certain; the political risk that comes with supporting the bill is huge and there is no guarantee the Constitutional Court will ratify the reform.
The court declared the 2018 version of the reform unconstitutional in October after finding serious irregularities in Congress’ initial approval last year.
New indications of irregularities have already emerged; when House president Carlos Cuenca (CR) surprisingly opened the vote on the bill on Friday, members of his own party and the U Party abandoned the chamber, impeding the vote.
Both parties are clearly nervous about the consequences of approving the bill. Despite their initial support, both have said they were reconsidering and would not take a decision until hours before the debates and votes on Monday.
Government optimistic, exactly like before previous defeats
The government, which has been lobbying to approve the bill, is said to be optimistic that Congress will approve the bill in spite of the economists’ and the public’s rejection.
Government representatives have told media they are confident that CR will support the bill and that the U Party is split.
The Duque administration, however, has been wrong many times before.
Unlike the president, lawmakers will want to have a chance to be re-elected in the 2022 elections, which may become impossible if they vote for the tax reform that sank Duque’s approval rating less than three months after taking office.