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Petro wins Colombia
(June 20, 2022)
Gustavo Petro won yesterday’s runoff election in Colombia, and will become the country’s first leftist president, with 50.4 percent of the vote, compared to his opponent, Rodolfo Hernández’s 47.3 percent. The participation rate was unusually high: 58 percent of eligible Colombians cast votes, the highest number since 1974. Hernández and key opposition leaders quickly recognized Petro’s victory, avoiding fears of disputed results and civil unrest.
Petro represents “voices of sectors that have been traditionally excluded from decision-making,” writes Juanita León in Silla Vacía. While other leaders have had leftist leanings, Petro is the first president to represent sectors that have traditionally opposed Colombia’s country’s establishment.
The International Crisis Group’s Elizabeth Dickinson made a similar point on Twitter, where she highlighted that “for the first time, campesinos, social movements, and civil organisations have been vital to electing a president. This is no small change; it is fundamental to understanding the new political space.”
Petro emphasized national reconciliation in his victory speech, and said he will seek a National Agreement on reforms Colombia needs. He explicitly said he does not arrive with a revanchist spirit, and will be open to dialogue with the opposition. He promised a government focused on peace, social justice and climate justice, with a major emphasis on climate change. (La Silla Vacía)
It was an election posited on change, Colombians chose between Petro and Rodolfo Hernández, an outsider candidate focused on condemning and eradicating corruption within the country’s political establishment. After May’s first round election, the country’s conservative establishment rallied behind Hernández, whose campaign relied heavily on social media platforms. Polling before the election put the two advocates of change neck-to-neck in voter intent. (See last Friday’s and Thursday’s posts.)
Though Colombians were choosing between different kinds of “change,” it’s important to note that Petro is an outsider who won with the “support of many familiar faces from the political class,” notes Dickinson. In the second round, Petro skillfully obtained the support of centrist opinion leaders, projecting himself as the more institutional outsider option, writes León.
Petro added 2.7 million votes to his first round results, defying analyses that said he had hit his voter ceiling in May. He was aided by Hernández’s refusal to engage in tradition campaign strategies, like television ads, media interviews, and a debate between candidates.
Hernández urged Petro to remain true to his anti-corruption discourse, and offered support to implement the change Colombian’s voted for. Hernández is entitled to a Senate seat and his electoral showing means he will be a force to reckon with for the government, reports La Silla Vacía.
Petro has generated enormous expectations of change, wrote analyst Sergio Guzmán on Twitter, though his margin for action will be limited by the opposition in Congress and adverse economic conditions.
The extent of what Petro can change remains to be seen, experts told Americas Quarterly. Hernández’s vote was, in large part, an anti-Petro vote, which means half of Colombia is currently leaderless, said Mauricio Cárdenas. A lot depends on how Petro negotiates with centrist parties to increase his Congressional coalition, La Silla Vacía editor Tatiana Duque noted, while Brian Winter points to the still unclear reaction of Colombia’s business community and right-wing.
Petro’s running-mate, Francia Márquez, will become the country’s first Black vice president. An environmental activist from the conflicted southwestern Cauca region, she has become a national phenomenon, mobilizing decades of voter frustration, reports the New York Times. Márquez worked in mines and as a housekeeper, her rise overcomes not just structural discrimination against Afro-Colombians, but also stark economic inequalities that define Colombian society.
Márquez is such a radical departure from Colombia’s norm that Petro was unsure about having her on the ticket as his vice-president, reports El País, but she became the star of the campaign, and catalyzed votes for Petro in unexpected ways. She rallied the Afro-Colombian vote, women, and people in distant rural communities.
“Colombians voted for a candidate who promises to negotiate with the ELN and dismantle other armed groups, in consultation with the society,” International Crisis Group’s Elizabeth Dickinson tweeted.
The rise of armed groups in parts of Colombia — a symbol of the government failures implement key aspects of the 2016 peace deal with the FARC — loomed over the election, reports the New York Times. Many parts of rural Colombia have seen a return to the killings, displacement and violence that, in some regions, is now as bad, or worse, than before the accord.
Petro’s past membership in a guerrilla force — the M-19 — is a red flag for many Colombians, scarred by decades of internal violence. Petro, who spent 10 years in the M-19, largely stockpiled stolen weapons, and was outside of the main decision-making circle, according to experts. The group demobilized in 1990, one of Colombia’s most successful peace processes, reports the New York Times.
Petro’s win reflects a wave of anti-establishment indignation in Latin America, reports the New York Times. (See Friday’s briefs.)
Indeed, Petro’s victory is the latest example of a dual trend in Latin America: leftward political shifts, and widespread discontent pushing anti-incumbent votes, reports the Washington Post.
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