Uncertainty Marks The Pulse Of a Historic Election In Colombia

Uncertainty marks the pulse of a historic election in Colombia

Colombians want a change. What is not clear is where. More than 39 million people will be able to elect the next president of Colombia this Sunday, who will take office on August 7 in place of Iván Duque. Neither the best analysts nor the most precise pollsters can accurately predict a winner for this second round. The difference of less than two percentage points between Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernández complicates predictions.

Added to the uncertainty about the result is the absence of guarantees about what the candidates will do if they are elected. “It is an unprecedented second round. We are facing two atypical candidates, who the polls show stuck and who rethink the functioning of our political system,” says Sandra Botero, doctor in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame and professor at the Universidad del Rosario from Bogota.


Participation, like blank voting, will be some of the elements to keep under the radar. The polarization in the proposals and the novelty of the candidates could lead to an increase in the number of voters and leave behind the high percentage of abstention that characterizes Colombia, where voting is not compulsory, but has been slowly growing in the last two elections. .

In this sense, the regionalist component has taken place in the speeches of the candidates, with the aim of expanding the number of voters. “Petro should make an effort – which I think it is doing – to mobilize the voters of the Atlantic Coast, the second most densely populated area in the country, where it won but with a lower turnout than the national average,” says Mónica Pachón, doctor in Political Science from the University of California and professor at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá.

“I believe that at this juncture progressivism should be built as an alternative. Otherwise, we would fall into a dystopia like the ones that appear in the movies,” writes Gustavo Petro in the epilogue of his autobiography One life, many lives. “Those tapes show how humanity, even on the verge of extinction, on the last steps, destroys itself.”

If the target Álvaro Uribe aimed at in his 2006 campaign was security and that of Juan Manuel Santos in 2014 was the Peace Agreement, for Gustavo Petro the watchword is inclusion. “Petro’s speech has focused on inclusion and recognition of those others who have not been part of democracy,” says Nadia Pérez Guevara, doctor in Political Science from the University of Salamanca and professor at the Autonomous University of Bucaramanga.

Among the promises of the candidate of the Historical Pact is that of advancing with a “great national agreement” and building paths of consensus towards a series of “fundamental reforms.” In his speech, Petro recovers what at the time of the sanction of the 1991 Constitution was known as an “agreement on the fundamentals”, an attempt at dialogue between different sectors of politics. “Petro has tried to say with that speech: let’s make an agreement on the fundamentals. He seeks to create from the speech the unity of the different political forces to reduce the fears that are based around his campaign and his leadership,” says Pérez Guevara .

Among his promises is a tax reform, the modification of the health system and a commitment to environmental policy that includes ending the fracking. But the idea of ​​the “grand agreement” works more as a promise of respect for the existing institutions than as an electoral programmatic agreement. “What Petro tries with the idea of ​​the great national agreement is to channel and legitimize the social claim that calls for reforms, but to do it in dialogue with the other players in the political system,” says Botero.

The main challenge that Petro will have to face, in the case of being elected president, will be to obtain sufficient support to advance with his government plan. “It is a challenge for Petro to bring peace of mind to the power groups by saying, for example, that it is not going to nationalize companies in the Venezuela style. That is one of its main obstacles because without the businessmen it cannot govern,” says Pérez Guevara.

In relation to the Legislative, the situation is not so complicated for the leftist candidate. Finally, in this election, Petro understood that it was necessary to first have a bench in Congress before reaching the government. In any case, it will not be so easy for the candidate of the Historical Pact to put together a broader coalition of parties that will allow him to advance his policy in Congress. “Petro is a very clever guy. He could create a supercoalition, but that goes against his voters. So it will be difficult for him to make that balance,” says Pachón.

In the event room of one of the most expensive hotels in Bucaramanga, Rodolfo Hernández received more than 200 Colombian businessmen last Wednesday to seal an electoral agreement. Before saying goodbye, Hernández asked him for 50,000 Colombian pesos [unos 12 euros] to each of the guests to cover the cost of breakfast.

Few certainties about its political content have left the campaign of the controversial Hernández, except for a single slogan: the “fight against corruption.” In his speech, the businessman includes the “good management of public funds” and a deep-rooted fight against what Hernández calls “politicking.” A campaign designed around the promise of reducing public costs that included noisy and ineffective proposals such as ending legislators’ cars, reducing spending on official residences and eliminating some embassies. But less is known about the underlying economic program.

During his administration in Bucaramanga, according to specialists, he expanded competition between contractors and reduced the deficit from 237,000 million pesos to zero. But he also increased inequality. Between 2017 and 2018, the richest 10% of the population received 2.2 times more income than the poorest 40%. “The increase in inequality in recent years in Bucaramanga occurs, above all, because the richest were able to recover their previous income while the others continued to lose,” says the report from income inequality analysis from the University of Rosario.

If elected president, the main challenge that Hernández will have will be to reach agreements with Uribismo without losing the support of his electorate, a right-wing voter disenchanted with the Democratic Center after the passage of Iván Duque. “Hernandez’s challenge is to meet the expectations of his electorate, he must find a way to materialize that anti-corruption discourse in concrete public policies,” says Pérez Guevara.

The other problem for Hernández is that, as the political scientist Mauricio Jaramillo defines, he is a candidate “without political substance.” For this reason, he must quickly define a government plan on many issues on which he has no position. “Hernández assembles the ideas based on what is asked of him at the time. What defines this candidate is his economic thinking, which is what interests him. What happens with other issues such as marijuana, glyphosate and same-sex marriage means nothing to him.”

The only traits that Marelen Castillo, vice-presidential candidate for the Anti-Corruption Leaders League, share with Francia Márquez, candidate for the Historical Pact, is that they are both women and of Afro roots. The rest is pure difference.

Márquez, unlike Castillo, comes to occupy that space due to the promotion of a historic vote in the internal elections on March 13, for her recognized career as an environmental defender, her feminist commitment and for her connection with the bases of the most humble sectors. . “Márquez made a good choice not only among black people and victims of violence, but she connects well with a young urban voter and with women,” says Botero. For the analyst, even if the Historical Pact loses this Sunday, “she will be a fundamental political figure in this country.”

On the contrary, the figure of Marelen Castillo is a great unknown. Hernández has told in various interviews that she chose her candidate based on her CV that she received from her in her office. Although Castillo has been vice-chancellor, none of the academics consulted knew of her existence before Hernández managed to enter the second round. “Marelen has added tranquility to Hernández’s campaign,” says Pachón, in a campaign where calm and predictability are not what abound.



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