Colombians go to the polls to elect their new president in the second round


Colombians began voting this Sunday to elect a president from among the leftist Gustavo Petro and the independent Rodolfo Hernandeztwo candidates outside the parties, with radical proposals for change for a country in crisis.

The vote began this Sunday morning with the vote of the president Ivan Duke, prevented by law from seeking re-election. The president voted in the central Plaza de Bolívar, in Bogotá.

Hernández, who denounced a plan to assassinate him after the first round, voted guarded by several escorts in the city of Bucaramanga, of which he was mayor.

Some 39 million Colombians are voluntarily called to the polls.

Until a week ago, the polls showed a technical tie, so a very close election result could fuel suspicions of fraud -which Petro has insistently expressed – and trigger protests.

“The measurements put us well above the other candidate. (…) The only thing left for us to face is fraud,” Petro launched on Twitter at the beginning of the day.

For its part, the national registrar, Alexander Vegadefended the task of the electoral authority that he heads: “Despite the misinformation (…) the electoral process remains firm and strong,” he said in a public speech together with Duque.

The senator and former guerrilla Petro, 62 years old, won the first round with 40% of the votes against 28% for Hernández (77), but his advantage was shattered after the game of alliances and a very aggressive campaign, with leaks and low blows from side and side.

The voters punished the forces that have historically governed and will choose between two uncertain alternatives that arouse fear in different sectors.

if it expires Petrothe left will come to power for the first time and if the victory is for Hernández, a millionaire without a party entangled with justice will be at the head of the country.

“Colombians have never faced this, not going where their enthusiasm tells them to go, but instead going towards the one that will do them the least harm,” says Michael Shifter, of the Inter-American Dialogue.

“I came to vote to make a change. Since I’m young, I want a better future for myself and for others. I don’t think whoever wins today will be good, but it will still be a change,” 19-year-old cheerleader Valentina Ríos told AFP. , in Bogota.

trouble menu

Colombia It arrives fractured at this ballot and with a worn out and unpopular government.

Harshly repressed, the protests of 2019, 2020 and 2021 reflected a profound discomfort in the face of inequality and lack of opportunities, mainly for young people.

The pandemic worsened poverty, which today reaches 39% of the 50 million Colombians. The unemployment around 11% and informality 45%. Drug trafficking and the violence associated with this activity, with various armed groups expanding throughout the territory, will also be challenges for the next government.

Petro Y Hernandez they represent rupture and change, but with opposite models. The first wants to transform the health and pension system, and suspend oil exploration to make way for clean energy, in the face of the climate crisis.

“The country needs social justice to be able to build itself in peace (…) that is to say, less poverty, less hunger, less inequality, more rights. If you don’t do that, the violence deepens,” Petro maintains.

Hernández landed in this contest as a wealthy outsider, with an anti-corruption and austerity message.

“I am going to reduce the size of the State, to end corruption and replace with efficient and non-corrupt officials those who have been placed in previous governments and who are marked by incapacity,” he says.

Both have experience as mayors. Petro governed Bogotá (2012-2015), and Hernández Bucaramanga (2016-2019), a city of about 600,000 inhabitants. The first is an economist who wants the rich to pay more taxes and the other an engineer who plans to reduce VAT from 19% to 10%.

They agree that they will restore relations with Venezuela, support the 2016 peace agreement with the extinct FARC, and seek dialogue with the National Liberation Army, the last recognized guerrilla group in the country.

“Neither of them is good, but we have to vote for the least worst, and the least worst is Rodolfo. The other has been a guerrilla and that is what young people do not see,” said Ruth Sepúlveda, a 54-year-old housewife. years, in Bucaramanga.

Both presidential candidates chose women with African roots for the vice presidency. The environmentalist Francia Márquez accompanies Petro’s formula and the academic Marelen Castillo that of Hernández.

The fears

Faced with the imminent turnaround, doubts and fears grow. Powerful sectors and the Armed Forces resist Petro because of his past and his reform projects that, they fear, will affect private property and lead the country towards a failed socialism.

If he wins, the military will have to swear allegiance to a former guerrilla fighter in a country traumatized by a six-decade conflict with far-left rebels.

He also has a “personality that many associate with intransigence, stubbornness and with an ego that limits dialogue,” says Patricia Muñoz, a political scientist at the Universidad Javeriana.

With Hernández, uncertainty reigns. The tycoon who promises to eradicate corruption is called to trial for irregularities in a contract signed during his time as mayor, which could prevent him from governing. He is a tongue-in-cheek politician, who frequently backs down and has made sexist comments.

He has “little knowledge of the State (…) How is he going to govern when his speech has been against the congressmen and the political class?”, asks the academic.

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