For the first time in its history, Colombia’s left is heading to prevail in the presidential elections. The former guerrilla and senator Gustavo Petro is the best positioned candidate for this Sunday’s vote, in which the country chooses the successor of Iván Duque, who leaves office with a strong rejection.
The left turn is based on a strong erosion of the right in power and the social unrest that uncovered the wave of massive protests that revolutionized the country in what was the National Strike of 2021, which lasted from April of last year until the beginning of 2022.
Petro, 62, widely dominates the voting intention in his third attempt to reach the presidency, but everything indicates that will not have enough margin to avoid the ballot of June 19.
Gustavo Petro is the top favorite for the first round (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)
Federico Gutiérrez (47) and Rodolfo Hernández (77), the first candidate for a right-wing coalition and related to the ruling party; the second a millionaire outsider, are emerging as his likely rivals in the second round, according to polls.
If expectations are met,the left will achieve its best electoral result in this country of 50 million inhabitants, historically governed by elites and plagued by drug trafficking and increasing violence, despite the 2016 peace agreement with the dissolved FARC guerrilla.
Petro, who laid down his arms in 1990 after the demobilization of the M-19, the nationalist rebel group in which he was a member for 12 years, embodies the rupture. “There are two options really: either keep things as they are in Colombia or change”he assures.
Federico “Fico” Gutiérrez is the best positioned candidate on the right (EFE/ Mauricio Dueñas Castañeda)
Regarding the end of this polarized campaign, Gutiérrez aligned himself with the desire for reforms: “I am going to call on all sectors to transform Colombia because it does need a change, but that change has to be safe.”
“In the last four years, inequality and levels of poverty, disagreement and discontent have deepened, and Petro is the one who has been able to read and interpret and connect with the electorate,” academic analyst Daniel García-Peña told AFP. .
Thus, the choice is defined between the radical change proposed by Petro, the moderate one proposed by Gutiérrez or the alternative of Hernández, who wants to end the corruption that he sees everywhere. The three have been mayors of Bogotá, Medellín and Bucaramanga, respectively. The range is completed by three candidates without any option, including the centrist Sergio Fajardo, according to the polls.
The millionaire Rodolfo Hernández is the third candidate with chances. Íngrid Betancourt, presidential candidate until this Friday, withdrew her campaign to support him. EFE/ Str
A country looking for changes
None of the favorites defends Duque’s management, very unpopular due to the economic management of the pandemic. To that is added the repressive and violent response given by the government to the massive protests in 2019 and 2021, led mainly by young people.
Around 39 million Colombians are eligible to vote
The Historic Pact, the coalition led by Petro and Francia Márquez, the charismatic Afro-leader who wants to reach the vice presidency, has just obtained the best result for the left in legislative elections, although without securing majorities.
The 2021 protests marked a Colombia that goes to the polls today with that fresh memory (Photo JOAQUIN SARMIENTO / AFP)
The body that organizes the voting is questioned by the inconsistencies in the preliminary count of those elections, which subtracted votes from Petro’s movement. Concerned about fraud, the leftist unsuccessfully demanded an external audit of the software used to calculate the votes.
His doubts about the transparency of the process further fueled the tension in this campaign, which took place between multiple debates and concern for the safety of applicants.
Both Petro and Gutiérrez denounced threats, after which they reinforced their protection. Mainly the leftist, who had to armor yourself with a bulletproof vest and shields around them to climb onto the platforms in fear of an assassination like the ones in the 20th century, when five presidential hopefuls were assassinated.
The possible promotion of Petro caused an unusual intervention of the military in politics, despite the fact that the Constitution prevents them from voting and deliberating.
Polarization, another key factor in the vote (Photo JOAQUIN SARMIENTO / AFP)
But there is not only nervousness in the troops. Businessmen and conservative sectors of the upper class fear that Petro will lead the country to the abyss with its plan to suspend contracts for oil exploration, which is responsible for a third of exports (13.5 billion dollars in 2021).
The senator, who hopes to start the transition to clean energy in this way in the face of the climate emergency, also proposes to reform the public-private pension system and remove the police from the Ministry of Defense.
Gutiérrez, meanwhile, focuses on security against the advance of the groups that are financed by drug traffickers, and the rebound in homicides and robberies in the cities. It is also presented as a guarantee of private property, threatened according to him by Petro’s plans.
“For the first time Colombia can elect a president who does not come from traditional politics,” but Petro “does not offer confidence,” says economist Jorge Restrepo, from the Javeriana University.
Whoever wins will have to deal with a country still convalescing from the ravages of the pandemic. Poverty reaches 39% of the population, urban unemployment at 17.2% and informality at 43.5%. Corruption and the economic situation are the main concerns of Colombians, according to the firm Invamer.
With information from AFP