Anti-establishment wins Colombian election
May 30, 2022
Colombia’s political status-quo was the major loser of yesterday’s presidential election, voters overwhelmingly opted for anti-establishment candidates. Leftist Gustavo Petro came in first, with 40.32 percent, and will face-off against right-wing outsider candidate Rodolfo Hernández, who obtained 28.15 percent, in a June second-round vote. It will be a battle between populists after voters rejected the political establishment, according to La Silla Vacía. (See also Semana, El Tiempo, Caracol.)
Polls had predicted Petro’s win, by about this margin, but Hernández’s second-place victory was a surprise, after he surged in recent weeks, promising to combat corruption and establishment politicians.
Most analysts had predicted that Federico “Fico” Gutiérrez, a conservative politician representing Colombia’s traditional politicians, would be Petro’s second-round challenger. Gutiérrez came in third yesterday with 23.91 percent. The results bury the narrative of a polarized left-right run-off and instead ushering in a dispute over what kind of change Colombians will back, reports El País.
According to the latest polls, more than 75% of the population believes that Colombia is headed in the wrong direction. (Miami Herald)
“Both Petro and Hernández represent radical visions of change (Petro a change to the economy and social order and Hernández a challenge against the political class) but now the onus will be on them to explain how their version of change is better for the country,” according to Sergio Guzmán, of Colombia Risk Analysis.
Petro’s signature campaign promises involve significant adjustments to the economy, including tax reform, and to change how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups. Hernández, in contrast, promised to reduce wasteful government spending and to offer rewards for people who report corrupt officials, reports the Associated Press.
The vote is “shaping up to be one of the most consequential in the country’s history,” reports the New York Times. Gutiérrez immediately called on supporters to vote for Hernández, and analysts anticipate the runoff could be a tight race, reports the Washington Post.
Many voters view the election as the continuation of the massive protests that shook Colombia last year, reports the Guardian. Demonstrations started over an unpopular tax reform, but quickly expanded into a broad expression of outrage against inequality, only fanned when the protests were met with widespread police brutality.
Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in Latin America, notes the Washington Post. More than half the population is experiencing food insecurity, 40 percent are living in poverty and 78 percent said in a recent survey that their country was moving in the wrong direction.
Petro and Márquez have given their recent speeches from behind a wall of bulletproof shields, a response to mounting threats against their lives. The Mission for Electoral Observation called this pre-election period the most violent in 12 years, reports the New York Times.
Also on yesterday’s ballot was Colombia’s fragile peace process with the FARC, reports the Guardian. Petro is a fervent supporter of the deal, while the vanquished Gutiérrez is seen as a skeptic. Hernández has pledged to support the deal, though critics say he could shift that position as he seeks to build a right-wing coalition.
“Economic suffering, widening inequality, fervent anti-incumbent sentiment and mismanagement of Covid-19 have all fueled a pendulum swing away from the center-right and right-wing leaders” who dominated Latin America just a few years ago, according to the New York Times.
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