By REGINA GARCIA CANO and ASTRID SUAREZ, Associated Press
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombian voters will choose between a former rebel and an unpredictable millionaire on Sunday when they vote in a presidential runoff that promises to reshape the country after a first round that punished the political class.
Polls show leftist Gustavo Petro and outsider Rodolfo Hernández – both former mayors – virtually tied since overtaking four other candidates in the first election on May 29, in which neither contested. received enough votes to win, forcing a second round. About 39 million people are eligible to vote on Sunday, but abstentionism has exceeded 40% in every presidential election since 1990.
Colombians are voting amid widespread discontent over rising inequality, inflation and violence. Dissatisfaction with the country’s conditions is such that in the first round voters turned their backs on the centrist and right-wing politicians in power and chose two foreigners.
Petro, a 62-year-old senator, is in his third presidential campaign. A victory for Petro would end the long-standing marginalization of the left by voters due to its perceived association with the country’s armed conflict. Petro was once a rebel in the now-defunct M-19 movement and was granted amnesty after being imprisoned for his involvement with the group.
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He has proposed ambitious pension, tax, health and agricultural reforms and changes to the way Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups. He got 40% of the vote in last month’s election and Hernández 28%, but the difference quickly narrowed as Hernández began garnering the so-called anti-Petrista votes.
Petro could become the latest left-wing political victory in Latin America, fueled by voters’ desire for change. Chile, Peru and Honduras have elected leftist presidents in 2021, and in Brazil, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the polls for this year’s presidential election.
Meanwhile, Hernández, 77, who made his fortune in real estate, is not affiliated with any major political party and has rejected alliances. His austere campaign, run mostly on TikTok and other social media platforms, was self-funded.
His proposals are based on a fight against corruption, which he accuses of being the root of poverty and the loss of state resources that could be used for social programs. He wants to reduce the size of the government by eliminating various presidential embassies and offices, turning the presidential palace into a museum, and reducing the use of the president’s aircraft fleet.
Hernández surged at the end of the first-round campaign ahead of more conventional candidates and shocked many when he finished second. He faced controversy, including saying he admired Adolf Hitler, then apologizing saying he wanted to reference Albert Einstein.
Silvia Otero Bahamón, professor of political science at Universidad del Rosario, said that although both candidates are populists who “have an ideology based on the division between the corrupt elite and the people”, each sees their struggle against the establishment differently.
“Petro is about the poor, ethnic and cultural minorities in the nation’s most peripheral regions being finally accounted for and invited to participate in democracy,” Otero said. While Hernández supporters are “more ethereal, they are the ones who have been let down by politics and corruption. It is a looser community, which the candidate accesses directly via social networks.
Polls show that the vast majority of Colombians believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and disapprove of President Iván Duque, who was not eligible for re-election. The pandemic has set back the country’s poverty alleviation efforts by at least a decade. Official figures show that 39% of Colombians lived on less than $89 a month last year, a slight improvement from 42.5% in 2020.
The impending shift away from traditional presidential politics has raised fears among some in the conservative, predominantly Catholic country. Many base their decision on what they don’t want, instead of what they want.
“A lot of people said ‘it doesn’t matter who is against Petro, I’m going to vote for whoever represents the other candidate, no matter who that person is,'” said Silvana Amaya, senior analyst at Control Risks. . “It also works the other way around. Rodolfo was portrayed as that crazy old man, communication genius, and outlandish character that some people say, “I don’t care who I have to vote for, but I don’t want him to be my president.”
Both men will find it difficult to keep their promises because neither has a majority in Congress, which is essential to carry out the reforms.
In the recent legislative elections, Petro’s political formation obtained 20 seats in the Senate, a relative majority, but he will still have to make concessions in negotiations with the other parties. Hernández’s political movement has only two representatives in the lower house, so he would also have to seek settlements with lawmakers, whom he has alienated by repeatedly calling “thieves.”
Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela.
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