Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Colombians choose between former rebel, unpredictable millionaire in presidential run-off

BOGOTA, Colombia ( Associated Press) – Colombians on Sunday chose between a former rebel and an unpredictable millionaire in a presidential run-off that promises to reform the country after a first-round election that punished the established political class.

Polls show left-wing Gustavo Petro and outsider Rodolfo Hernández – both former mayors – virtually equal since being at the top of four other candidates in the May 29 initial election in which neither of them got enough votes to win straight, which forced the second time. About 39 million people are eligible to vote on Sunday, but abstention has been more than 40% in every presidential election since 1990.

The vote comes amid widespread dissatisfaction over rising inequality, inflation and violence – factors that led voters in the first round to turn their backs on the long-reigning centrist and right-wing politicians and two outsiders in Latin America’s third most populous nation has chosen.

Petro, a 62-year-old senator, is in his third presidential campaign. His victory would put an end to voters’ prolonged marginalization of the left because of his association with the country’s long armed conflict. Petro was once a rebel at the now disbanded M-19 movement and was granted amnesty after being sent to prison for his involvement with the group.

Second Round Of Colombian Presidential Election

Colombian center-right presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez of Anti-Corruption Rulers’ League Party leaves after casting his ballot in the second round of presidential elections in Bucaramanga, Colombia June 19, 2022. Photo by Santiago Arcos / Reuters .

He proposed ambitious pension, tax, health and agricultural reforms and changes to how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups. He received 40% of the vote during last month’s election and Hernández 28%, but the difference quickly narrowed as Hernández began attracting so-called anti-Petrista voters.

Petro may become the latest left-wing political victory in Latin America fueled by voters’ desire for change. Chile, Peru and Honduras have elected left-wing presidents in 2021, and in Brazil, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the polls for this year’s presidential election.

Meanwhile, the 77-year-old Hernández, who made his money in real estate, was not affiliated with any major political party and rejected alliances. His tough campaign, which was mostly conducted on TikTok and other social media platforms, was self-funded.

His proposals are based on a fight against corruption, which he blames for poverty and the loss of state resources that can be used on social programs. He wants to reduce the size of the government by eliminating several embassies and presidential offices, turning the presidential palace into a museum and reducing the use of the president’s aircraft fleet.

READ MORE: Colombia’s Constitutional Court legalizes abortion up to 24 weeks

Hernández rose past more conventional candidates late in the first round campaign and was very shocked when he finished second. He faced controversy, including saying he admired Adolf Hitler before apologizing and saying he intended to refer to Albert Einstein.

Outgoing Conservative President Iván Duque on Sunday urged Colombians to vote and trust the institutions “with full confidence in the verdict of the people.” The government said it had information about possible protests planned after polls closed and had previously denied any acts of violence.

Petro questioned election officials during the campaign, saying he would analyze after the polls closed whether he accepted the results.

Silvia Otero Bahamón, a professor of political science at the University of Rosario, said although both candidates are populists who “have an ideology based on the division between the corrupt elite and the people”, everyone sees their struggle against the establishment anders.

“Petro is related to the poor, the ethnic and cultural minorities of the most peripheral regions of the country,” Otero said, while Hernández’s supporters “are the people who have been let down by politics and corruption. It is a looser community that reaches the candidate directly via social networks. ”

Polls show that most Colombians believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and disapprove of Duque, who was not eligible for re-election. The pandemic has put the country’s efforts against poverty back by at least a decade. Official figures show that 39% of Colombians lived on less than $ 89 a month last year.

The rejection of politics as usual “is a reflection of the fact that the people are fed up with the same people as always,” says Nataly Amezquita, a 26-year-old civil engineer waiting to vote. “We must create greater social change. Many people in the country are not in the best condition. “

READ MORE: Dark future causes widespread protests by young Colombians

But even the two outsider candidates left her cold. She said she would cast a blank ballot: “I do not like either of the two candidates”. None of them look like a good person to me. ”

Many voters based their decision on what they do not want, instead of what they do want.

“A lot of people said, ‘I do not care who stands against Petro, I’m going to vote for whoever the other candidate represents, no matter who that person is,” said Silvana Amaya, a senior analyst at Control. . Risks. “It also works the other way around. Rodolfo is portrayed as this crazy old man, communication genius and extravagant character (so) that some people say, ‘I do not care who I vote for, but I do not want him to be my president.’

Both will have a hard time keeping promises, as neither has a majority in Congress, which is the key to implementing reforms.

In recent legislative elections, Petro’s political movement has won 20 seats in the Senate, a plurality, but he will still have to make concessions in negotiations with other parties. Hernández’s political movement has only two representatives in the lower house, so he will also have to seek agreements with legislators, which he has alienated by repeatedly calling them “thieves”.

Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela.

Nation World News Desk
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