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Presidential elections in Colombia: a duel begins for the anti-system vote

The historic but bittersweet victory of the left and the entry into play of an eccentric millionaire cleared the way for the presidential runoff in Colombia. It will be an unexpected duel for the anti-system vote to the detriment of traditional forces.

Former guerrilla fighter and left-wing senator Gustavo Petro won the first round on Sunday with 8.5 million votes, equivalent to 40.3% of the vote, and on June 19 he will face engineer Rodolfo Hernández (28, 5%), former mayor of Bucaramanga and an ideologically indecipherable tycoon who displaced the right in the fight for power.

with speeches diametrically opposite, the candidates defeated the conservative and liberal elites who ruled for two centuries the country and will seek to capitalize on Colombians’ nonconformity with the ruling class.

Impoverished (39%) by the pandemic that sparked massive protests, the uptick in violence and corruption, the country of 50 million inhabitants voted with renewed motivations after four years of the unpopular government of the right-wing Iván Duque.

More than 21 million voters participated in a day that turned out to be a slap in the face for the right and the traditional partiesrelegated for the first time in the first presidential round.

A country in the process of change

The elite historically in power is “losing ground” and there is “a country that is changing”analyzed Eugénie Richard, professor at the Externado University.

Petro (62 years old) and Hernández (77) arrived at the second round wrapped in the desire for change and denying corruption.

For analyst Alejo Vargas, the candidacies against the ruling class triumphed in social sectors that “do not like political parties.”

Gustavo Petro during the celebrations of his victory in the first round, in Bogotá.  Photo: Reuters

Gustavo Petro during the celebrations of his victory in the first round, in Bogotá. Photo: Reuters

The conservatives and liberals “allied with the government of Duque”, who came to the presidency in 2018 sponsored by former right-wing president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), “have been defeated,” Petro celebrated. Entangled in trouble with the law, Uribe ceased to be the great political figure of Colombia after two decades of protagonism.

With a kitchen as a backdrop and through social networks where he is very active, Hernández celebrated that “they lost the sheaves that they believed would be the government forever.”

Now, the ex-guerrilla campaign will return to the board to get around two million additional votes.

“You have to build a campaign aimed at urban youth who went out to protest in past years, just like (Gabriel) Boric did in Chile,” says Alexander Gamba, professor at the Faculty of Sociology at Universidad Santo Tomás, who highlights the “low participation” of those under 25 in the elections on Sunday.

For Gamba, in the remainder of the campaign Petro will have to modify his speech to achieve a broader call:

“He has to stop stating that he is the anti-elite candidate and show himself as the one who can defend democracy, because many of Rodolfo’s positions they are openly undemocratic“, adds the sociologist.

The outsider of this contest has raised criticism for its macho positions against the political participation of women or their anti-immigrant discourse regarding Venezuelans.

“Support from home. The woman involved in the government people do not like“, he stated in recent days when referring to the role of the first ladies.

Always on the opposite side of Uribe and Duque, Petro focused his campaign on pointing out the “continuism” embodied in Gutiérrez, whom the polls gave as the second favorite.

But now, before Hernández, he will have “the challenge of reinventing his entire narrative, which was implicitly directed towards Federico Gutiérrez, saying ‘he is the candidate of Uribismo, I am the candidate of change,'” adds Richard.

“This whole narrative is weakened” because Hernández “is not a traditional man of politics either,” he maintains.

An “uncomfortable” candidate

A source from Petro’s campaign admitted before the first round that the former mayor of Bucaramanga would be “the most uncomfortable rival” in his plans.

Rodolfo Hernández, an uncomfortable candidate.  Photo: Bloomberg

Rodolfo Hernández, an uncomfortable candidate. Photo: Bloomberg

According to surveys by the firm Invamer, Hernández has been gaining supporters for the ballot against Petroto the point of being practically even with 47% of the votes for the civil engineer and 50% for the congressman, who until a week ago seemed solid on his way to the presidency.

Vargas foresees a “scenario similar to that of four years ago”, when Duke met the rejection and fear of Petro and won in the second round.

“Added Rodolfo’s vote [Hernández] and Frederick’s [Gutiérrez] they already have 11 million”, above the 8.5 million that Petro got on Sunday, he anticipates.

By Juan Sebastian Serrano and David Salazar, AFP

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