There are things about the Colombian elections this Sunday that are already known.
That the majority of the electorate shouts change. That the country shows signs of transformation. That concerns in recent years have changed. That the parties and traditional politics are in decline. That “the usual ones”, those who always held power, went into the background. That Colombia is united in the need for changebut polarized by what the dimension is and who represents it.
What is not known, and will be defined this Sunday, is who Colombians choose to represent all this and what happens with the tension generated by the new.
On the one hand, Gustavo Petroan economist, an intellectual, an ex-guerrilla who aspires to be the first progressive president of a politically and economically conservative country, stable and continuous for good and bad.
For the other, Rodolfo Hernandezan independent politician without a party who denies politicians, a businessman who wants to take the logic of the companies to the State, a champion against corruption who on July 21 could be the first elected president to be prosecuted, precisely, for corruption .
Although Petro proposes a more structural change of country, Hernández intends to alter the forms of the old traditional politics with a close language in which he sides with the voter and against the politicians.
They are different changes. Petro’s is more articulated on paper; Hernandez’s is more visceral and intuitive.
Both have been able to read the transformation of a country that in recent years has experienced two social upheavals, in which the pandemic exacerbated enormous inequality and in which the end of the conflict with the guerrillas finally gave way to other concerns.
A Colombia in which the identity policies of women and young people, among other groups, also gain weight.
But who are they and what are the candidates proposing?
The historic turn to the left proposed by Petro
Petro is a senator, he was mayor of Bogotá and this is his third attempt to reach the presidency.
In the first round was the most voted with 8.5 million of support, an already historic figure for a left-wing candidate who now sees Casa Nariño as closer than ever.
Why? Because it has taken advantage of the social discontent of a country that erupted in protests in 2019 and 2021 and that emerged from the pandemic more aware of the tremendous inequality in the country, the largest in Latin America.
Together with his vice-presidential candidate, France Marquez, a black woman, social activist and feminist, has managed to win the female vote. She also to the new voters, the youngest, seduced by the change and by the candidate’s environmental agenda, among other things.
Petro not only wants to be the first left-wing president of the country, but also to be the first coastal president, and hand in hand with the first black vice president, to reflect the multicultural country that is Colombia.
“It is not war, it is education; it is not oil and cocaine, it is the work on the furrow under the sun and the transformation of products into industry; it is not a minority oligarchy ruling Colombia, it is a multicolored democracy “, said the candidate of the so-called Historical Pact.
He also proposes ambitious economic measures that would shake up the country’s neoliberal order. Among them, one Tax Reform that many experts consider essential in one way or another; and start a transition to end oil extractivismthe main source of money for the State through exports.
Against him is the fear of the left of some sectors of the center and the right, who blame him for a guerrilla past in the M-19, a group that signed peace with the State in the 1990s, and his past closeness to Hugo Chávez. , the late Venezuelan leader who for many Colombians embodies the failure of the neighboring country and the fear of a revolution at home.
That fear is what has been called the “Petrophobia”perhaps the biggest obstacle for a Petro that over the years —and the campaign— has been moderating and focusing, leaving behind its most radical proposals.
And always critical of the institutions, now, before Hernández, he presents himself as their greatest supporter.
“There are changes that are empty, there are changes that are not changes, they are suicides,” he said, presenting himself as the moderate change.
Rodolfo Hernández and corruption as the evil of everything
The 77-year-old engineer, former mayor of Bucaramanga, obtained almost 6 million votes in the first round in an apparently simple way.
With a bold strategy of social networks, with a lot of closeness to the people despite the distance of a candidate who barely gave interviews or did campaign events or participated in debates.
He speaks like normal people, he makes mistakes, corrects himself at times, and conquers, above all, the voter in rural areas without defining himself as left or right.
Like Petro, he is branded a populist. In your case because proposes that the country’s problems stem from a single source: corruption. And the culprits are politicians, in general, in the abstract.
His main campaign promise in a program with little definition of proposals is end “the robbery”, as he defines it. And he amplifies it with a mantra that he has permeated among his supporters: “Do not steal, do not lie, do not betray and zero impunity.”
“Colombia’s problem, its terminal cancer, is that politicians are stealing tons from the country and treating us like useful idiots,” said this self-made construction businessman who opposed Petro his experience in the “real world” of the company, the efficiency and the management.
Something similar to what Donald Trump proposed when he won the United States in 2016.
There is even talk that he wants to form a cabinet purely of businessmen.
He has also said that the first thing he will do is sign a national commotion decree to tackle the economic and social problems of the country, something that raises doubts for wanting to govern without having a Congress where he will not have a bench.
That would be an inconvenience for his eventual government, but it is an asset for his campaign as an independent actor, in which he accepts adhesions but without signing pacts or shaking hands with any politician.
“It has become the voice of change, but not a change to the right, to the left, or to the center. It is a simple change of discourse that summarizes the main concerns of Colombians, which are those related to corruption,” he told the Reuters agency political analyst Jairo Libreros.
Those doubts about what he will do and how will be his relationship with the institutions, bureaucratic and slow, but also guarantors of the limitation of power, work against him to seduce a voter more attached to the institutions of a country without dictatorships in recent history. .
He does not believe that a tax reform as such is necessary, and some of his phrases have earned him the label of sexist.
But perhaps its main shadow is that, despite successfully presenting itself as a champion against corruption, on July 21 he faces a trial for alleged illegal activity when he was mayor of Bucaramanga.
There are voices that say that this accusation could even prevent him from assuming the presidency on August 7 if he wins this Sunday.
“To break with politicking on June 19 we need to exceed 12 million votes,” asked Hernández, who, however, has not done much to do so in the second round campaign, perhaps confident that “Petrophobia” will be enough for him.
How can they win on Sunday
It will not be easy for Hernández to reach that figure, which would mean doubling the result of the first round, although he assumes that it is possible because he has the overwhelming majority of the traditional right-wing vote, whose representative, Fico Gutiérrez, was left out of the second.
The center, however, could be more divided. The most representative figures among the moderates have stated both that they will vote blank and that they will support one or another candidate, so that electorate is unknown.
The surveys, which could not be published by law in the last week, showed a technical drawthat is, a very narrow difference that falls within what is known as the margin of error.
Hernández has a greater capacity for improvement, but also the challenge of convincing almost all of those who were left without a candidate in the first round. In his favor, “Petrophobia”, his attractiveness in rural areas and that his figure seems to marry better with the feeling against traditional politics, key in these elections.
Petro, for his part, has a smaller profit margin, and he knows that the challenge is to mobilize those who have already voted for him in the first place and many more.
Seek more support among the urban electorate, youth and women. And it wants to extend its advantage in the poorest and most unequal areas of the country: the peripheries, on the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
Silvia Otero, a political scientist at the Universidad del Rosario, highlighted that in the Caribbean, one of the traditionally crucial electoral zones, turnout on May 29 was 11 percentage points lower than the national average.
“The most important population of the second round are the poor from the Caribbean coast who stayed at home, because without them Petro cannot increase its flow.”
Surveys reveal that there is about a 10% undecided, that is, almost two million votes. Those voters hold the key to a hotly contested presidency.
The challenges of the country
Another thing that is known for sure is that the president as of August 7 will find a country in which there are many demands and urgencies.
“Whoever wins, they come four years that will not be easy“, Adolfo Meisel, economist, rector of the Universidad del Norte and former co-director of the Board of Directors of Banco de la República told BBC Mundo.
“The issue that needs to be addressed with relative urgency, whatever the next government may be, is the issue of fiscal deficit through a tax reform,” said the expert.
A tax reform by the current president, Iván Duque, triggered social protests in 2019 motivated by a wide range of demands.
Many of them are summarized in inequalitya long-standing problem in Colombia that has not been solved with the oil boom —past and current— nor the macroeconomic stability of recent decades.
The peace process, the end of the war, opened the eyes of many to see the problem. And the drop in economic activity due to the pandemic exacerbated it. Half of the population lives below some level of poverty.
“There is an underlying issue that is the poor distribution of income. This is not a recent thing (…) but the country has improved a lot in its living standards in recent decades. We are much better now than 50 years ago.” years. But, having said that, when people are better off, that’s when people aspire to change,” Meisel said.
Politically, both Petro and Hernández will face counterweights and the harsh opposition of those who did not vote for them. Both are expected to have problems in their relationship with Congress.
This can generate institutional and social tensions, because there will be people who will not see the demands expressed in the very recent protests of 2019 and 2021 met.
The map of the first round showed the same regional division as in past presidential elections that were marked by armed conflict. The same as in the referendum of the peace process with the FARC guerrillas in 2016.
It is that Colombia united as never before in the need for change, but polarized as always by how and who should execute it.
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