- Marcia Carmo
- From Buenos Aires to BBC News Brazil
The Colombians who will go to the polls this Sunday (19/06) have only one certainty: whatever the result, the country will start an unprecedented stage.
This is the first time that the contest will be between a candidate from the left or center-left and a candidate who presents himself as an outsider of the political system. The traditional right-wing or center-right parties, which ruled Colombia for decades, were defeated in the first round, held on 05/29.
This election has other novelties: the union of the left and the removal of the armed conflict from the priorities of Colombian debates.
Former guerrilla fighter and senator Gustavo Petro, of the Pacto Histórico coalition, which is classified by experts as left-wing or center-left, and the construction industry entrepreneur and former mayor Rodolfo Hernández, of the Anti-Corruption League of Governors, considered many analysts such as populist and a sort of “Colombian Trump” would be technically tied, according to opinion polls.
The prospect of a supposed “vote by vote” count has led the Colombian press to claim that this will be an “infarction election”.
In both cases, the proposals are considered disruptive and reflect the fatigue of Colombians with the problems they face, such as unemployment (around 12%), high inflation (9% annually) and chronic social inequality, according to analysts interviewed by the BBC. News Brazil.
Both Petro and Hernández say they represent changes against the current system and the hope of a turnaround in the lives of Colombians – who, in many cases, face similar problems to those of other Latin Americans and aggravated during the pandemic of the new coronavirus and the war in Ukraine. , such as rising food prices.
“This is an election that reflects Colombians’ feeling of exhaustion with the social problems they are facing. It is the first time since the 1980s that the traditional parties (Liberal and Conservative) are not in the running,” said the political scientist and expert. in international business Luciana Manfredi, from ICESI University, in Cali, and UNAM, in Mexico.
She notes that, in the face of a fragmented electorate, while generating expectations of renewal, the two candidates also raise doubts about economic stability (in the case of Petro) and democratic stability (in the case of Hernández).
The most skeptical question how Petro or Hernández will do, in practice, to meet the accumulated demands of the Colombians.
“In a context of low economic growth, high inflation and unemployment, the ‘punishment vote’ (against the traditional political class) and the ‘protest vote’ (against social difficulties) emerged. with the guerrillas and security as priorities. But Petro and Hernández are demagogues because it is not clear how they will solve the problems and if they cannot end up making the situation worse,” said Jorge Restrepo, an economics professor at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá.
The debate on the guerrillas became secondary and practically non-existent in this electoral campaign, due to the peace agreement, signed in 2016, to put an end to the armed conflict involving the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), which lasted 50 years. .
The left, which was rejected for its association with the guerrilla movement, now has a better chance of being elected to the Casa de Nariño, the seat of the Colombian presidency.
Petro, former mayor of Bogotá, the Colombian capital, and Hernández, former mayor of Bucaramanga, in the department (State) of Santander, are opposites in their ideological profiles.
In the last presidential election, Petro, 62, was defeated in the second round, when traditional parties and their opponents in general united around the name of current president Iván Duque.
This year, in the first round, Petro was the most voted, with 40.34% of the vote, but he could not surpass 50% to be elected.
Its flags are social inclusion and clean energy. His criticisms against the “Colombian dependence on oil” are frequent and one of the reasons for the rejection of his name by a large part of the business community.
In one of the recent conversations he had on his social media, Petro said he would suspend oil exploration in the country and that among his goals is the agricultural sector, with greater protection against imported products and care for the environment.
For political scientist Alejo Vargas Velázquez, from the National University of Colombia, Petro has broad support from the left, but one of his biggest challenges is generating “credibility” among investors.
In the Colombian press, there was talk of “petrophobia” — the phobia, the fear of those who reject Petro and the left, especially in the business and economic sectors, and who would choose Hernández to avoid the victory of the former mayor of Bogotá.
Petro and his team often say that there is no reason to “fear” and that changes will be made through dialogue and political consensus.
“If I win, I will call for a great national agreement, based on dialogue, including the center and even (former right-wing president) Álvaro Uribe. We have to change the environment of hatred and sectarianism that exists in Colombia today,” he said in an interview. to the Spanish newspaper El País.
For his part, Hernández, 77, showed that he knew little even about the country’s geography and made jocular statements that were considered sexist.
“The ideal would be for women to dedicate themselves to the education of their children,” he said. And he made other statements also considered “outdated” or “exploitative”, opponents, analysts and academics pointed out, such as that workers should extend the working day to ten hours a day and reduce lunch time to half an hour.
In the first round, Hernández was the big surprise and received 28.17% of the votes, beating Federico Gutiérrez, a candidate who represented traditional parties.
The abstention rate, normally high in the country, was the lowest in the last 20 years. Still, only 54% showed up at the polls, according to official data.
And analysts such as Luciana Manfredi, from the Universities Icesi and Unam, and Victor M. Mijares, from the Universidad de los Andes, note that the Colombian electorate is today marked by fragmentation.
Thus, the voters of the two presidential candidates are dispersed in the various social strata of the country, which does not mean that the economically poorest will vote heavily for Petro or that the richest will opt for Hernández, they note.
But what to expect from a possible Petro government or a possible Hernández government?
“Petro has a policy that is more oriented towards job creation, that of creating opportunities for higher education for young people and of changes in the area of human rights, such as concern for the displaced and the disappearance of social leaders. The fear among entrepreneurs is how these measures will be financed. However, speculation that his policy would be to expropriate (companies) is in the past,” said political scientist Luciana Manfredi, who is also from the Red Politológicas (political scientists) of Latin America.
She notes that among those who reject Petro’s possible election there is concern “in relation to economic stability”, since he questions, in addition to oil, Colombia’s international trade agreements.
“In the neoliberal vision, Colombia is seen with the same stability as Chile. But there is a reality that is social inequality and the ‘desplazados’ (displaced by conflicts),” he said.
As in Chile, Colombia also recorded strong protests in 2019 and 2020. And, in this campaign, Petro received support from political leaders associated with the left or center-left, among them Chilean President Gabriel Boric and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
The “desplazados” form a national drama. They are those who had to move, within their own country, in the face of the territorial advance of the guerrillas or drug trafficking. Official data indicate that the category would exceed 2 million Colombians in a country with just over 50 million inhabitants.
In the view of the professor at the University of Cali, Petro has “political experience” and knows Colombia, unlike his opponent in this electoral race.
But if Petro generates the fear of “economic instability”, Hernández generates the fear of “institutional and democratic instability”, she says.
“He represents institutional uncertainty and justifies the definition of populist by saying that he supports measures that deep down he doesn’t know or doesn’t really support,” he said.
That’s the case, she says, with her advocacy for the medical use of marijuana or greater access for young people to college. When asked, Hernández said that she does not know how she will go about putting the measures into practice, but that she will have qualified people to resolve the situation.
Or, when the question involves public resources, the analyst recalls, he replies that he will fulfill the promise “with the money that will be spared from corruption”—the fight against corruption is one of his main banners.
Similarities between candidates
Economic analyst Restrepo, from Universidad Javeriana, believes that the two presidential candidates have something in common in the economic sphere, which is the defense of a more “protectionist” economy against foreign production.
He criticized the economic proposals of the two presidential candidates. “They represent a setback for the country.”
Colombia, he recalled, has around 25 free trade agreements, including those with the United States, the European Union and Canada, in addition to being part of the Pacific Alliance (Colombia, Chile and Mexico).
“I see both candidates as the most radical of all the presidential candidates we’ve had in this election. We really are at an unprecedented moment in our recent history,” he said.
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