Colombian Presidential Election: Shocked Country Looks Left, But Will Voters Make Historic Turn?

No serious reports of violence or unrest marred the first round of voting in South America’s second largest country, which is going through one of the most turbulent periods in its modern history.

In the first round, leftist candidate Gustavo Petro won just over 40% of the vote, and the populist real estate mogul became a politician. Rodolfo Hernandez taking 28% – ousting Peter’s expected rival, the right-wing former mayor of Medellin, Federico “Fico” Gutiérrez.

Since neither candidate won an absolute majority, Petro and Hernandez will now face off in the second round of voting.

Here’s what you need to know about the Colombian elections.

The last elections were 4 years ago. Why so soon another?

Presidents of Colombia are elected for only one four-year term. And Colombians are ready for a change: Right-wing President Ivan Duque’s approval rating is low, and his tenure has been marred by his administration’s handling of police behavior, inequality and organized crime clashes.

This dissatisfaction brought the left to the attention of the president for the first time in the country’s history. Meanwhile, more conservative candidates have rallied voters to believe that a more gradual series of reforms will correct Colombia’s course.

Who are Petro and Hernandez?

Petro is the former mayor of Bogotá, whose candidacy in 2022 marks his third presidential campaign. 62 year old ran on a platform that proposes a radical restructuring of the country’s economy to combat some of the highest levels of inequality in the world. Petro, a former guerrilla who today preaches reconciliation and an end to violence, has built his campaign around whether Colombia is ready to elect a revolutionary. It campaigns to attract foreign investment in clean energy, new technologies, transport and telecommunications.

Gustavo Petro speaks at an election debate in Bogotá on Monday.

Meanwhile, the 77-year-old businessman Hernandez’s popularity skyrocketed in the weeks leading up to the May vote, attracting centrist voters who reject Petro’s revolutionary appeals and Gutiérrez’s traditionalism. Hernandez’s unique social media campaign has been compared to that of former US President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. The self-proclaimed “King of TikTok” has taken a stance of confrontation with traditional media: he has not appeared in several televised debates hosted by Colombia’s major broadcasters and has rarely given interviews to foreign media, although he has appeared on CNN in clothes. his pajamas, saying that he was “a man of the people.”

Rodolfo Hernandez greets supporters at Palonegro International Airport in Bucaramanga, Colombia, May 21.

First black vice president?

Petro’s running mate, vice presidential candidate Francia Marquez, rocked the Colombian political scene. The 40-year-old black feminist single mother won the third-most vote in the March primary, and her charismatic rallies drew supporters across the country. If elected, she would be the first Afro-Colombian to hold executive power.

Colombians of African descent, the second largest community of its kind in South America, have long been marginalized in politics and society. Márquez’s candidacy gave millions of Afro-Colombians a chance to identify with the national politician and hope for social change in their country.

Francia Marquez at a vice presidential campaign event in Bogotá on March 22.

During a recent speech in Bogota, she quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., as saying that she also had “a dream of seeing my country in the world.”

Compared to Petro, who has been in politics for 20 years, Marquez is part of a new wave of progressive left in Latin America that prioritizes issues like the environment. In 2018, she received the Goldman Environmental Award for successfully organizing a women’s group to stop illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. She also advocates for LGBTQ rights, gender issues, and economic equality.

Economy, security and drugs

Colombia has been one of the fastest growing countries in Latin America in recent years, but this growth is not spreading to working families and the poorer sections of the population.

Petro is banking on voters frustrated by the country’s economic outlook, which have suffered the most in the past four years as wages have stagnated under Duque.

Overall, the country is richer than it has been since Duque came to power in 2018, but the value of a worker’s average annual wage has fallen significantly as the Colombian peso has since fallen 40% against the dollar. This situation is only exacerbated by rising inflation and the war in Ukraine.

Although Hernandez also tries to exploit some voters’ dissatisfaction with the traditional political system, his approach to the economy, which focuses on corruption, is more moderate than Petro’s.

A customer buys groceries at the Silvia Market in Cauca, Colombia this month.  Inflation in Colombia accelerated to its fastest pace since July 2000 in April.

As for neighboring Venezuela, Petro said he plans to restore diplomatic relations even with the powerful man Nicolás Maduro in power. Hernandez also advocates a thaw in Colombia’s relations with Venezuela.

Elections are also being held as the security situation in the country worsens.

Last month, the notorious Clan del Golfo drug cartel imposed an “armed curfew” in response to Extradition of the United States by Diaro Usugi “Othoniel”, one of his bosses, with six people killed and more than 180 cars attacked on the Caribbean coast of the country.

In the first three months of this year alone, nearly 50,000 Colombians have been forcibly imprisoned as a result of ongoing clashes between armed groups, according to the UN.

A Colombian soldier stands guard outside the port city of Buenaventura, Colombia, this month.
The violence is linked to the production and trafficking of drugs in the country, with cocaine production in Colombia increasing significantly in recent years. The pandemic has coincided with an upsurge in criminal activity, with several groups effectively controlling parts of Colombian territory, including AraucaCauca and Catatumbo regions.

How to restore state control over these areas and fight back against the cartels is the key issue in this election, which will be a serious problem for the next president.

Petro proposed to solve the problem by legalizing cannabis and partially decriminalizing the use of cocaine and other drugs. He said he favors engaging with criminal gangs through peace agreements similar to the 2016 peace deal with the now demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP), which ended more than half a century of guerrilla conflict between the state. and communist rebels. Petro has been criticized for his promises of “democratization of the land” and “social forgiveness” for convicted criminals, including those accused of corruption.

Hernandez also advocates ending the war on drugs. But he changed his mind about the peace agreement. In 2016, he revealed that he voted against the historic deal, but in a campaign statement he said he would respect the deal and even offered to “copy-paste the solution” to negotiate with the National Liberation Army, the largest left-wing guerrilla movement. a group in the country known by the Spanish acronym ELN.

As candidates present their plans for the future, how Colombia heals the wounds of its past will also be reflected on the ballot.