Friday, March 31, 2023

Tight Colombian runoff pits former rebel, millionaire

BOGOTA, Colombia ( Associated Press) — Voters in Colombia will choose between a former rebel and an unlikely millionaire on Sunday as they vote for the presidency that will reshape the country after a first-round election that punished the political class. Size promises.

Polls show leftist Gustavo Petro and outsider Rodolfo Hernández – both former mayors – are practically tied since topping four other candidates in an early May 29 election, with neither getting enough votes to win outright, Which caused the runoff. About 39 million people are eligible to vote on Sunday, but abstaining has been above 40% in every presidential election since 1990.

Colombians are voting amid widespread discontent over rising inequality, inflation and violence. Such is the dissatisfaction with the situation in the country that in the first round, voters turned their backs on long-ruling centrist and right-wing politicians and chose two outsiders.

Senator Petro, 62, is in his third presidential campaign. A Petro victory would end voters long marginalized by the Left because of its perceived affiliation with the country’s armed struggle. Petro was a rebel with the once defunct M-19 movement and was pardoned after being imprisoned for his involvement with the group.

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

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

Meanwhile, 77-year-old Hernandez, who made his money in real estate, is not affiliated with any major political party and has ruled out alliances. His campaign, run mostly on TikTok and other social media platforms, was self-financed.

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

Hernandez arrived late in the first-round campaign behind more traditional candidates and surprised many when he finished second. He has faced controversy by saying that he admired Adolf Hitler and then apologizing that he meant to refer to Albert Einstein.

Silvia Otero Bahamón, professor of political science at the 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 its fight against the establishment differently. .

“Petro belongs to the poor, ethnic and cultural minorities of the most peripheral regions of the country, who are ultimately taken into account and invited to participate in democracy,” Otero said. While Hernandez’s supporters are “more ethereal, they are people who have been dismayed by politics and corruption. It is a vulnerable community that the candidate reaches directly through social networks.”

Polls show that a large majority of Colombians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and reject President Ivan Duque, who was not qualified to seek re-election. The pandemic set back the country’s anti-poverty 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 shift away from traditional presidential politics has caused fear among some in this conservative, mostly Roman Catholic country. Many people are basing their decisions on what they don’t want, rather than what they want.

“Many people said, ‘I don’t care who’s standing against Petro, I’m going to vote for whoever represents the other candidate, whoever that person is,'” said Silvana Amaya, a senior analyst at the firm Control Risk. he said. , “It works the other way too. Rodolfo is portrayed as this crazy old man, communicative genius and extraordinary character, which some say: ‘I don’t care who I vote for, but I don’t. I want him to be my president.'”

Both men will have a tough time delivering on their promises as neither has a majority in Congress, which is the key to carrying out the reforms.

In the recent legislative elections, Petro’s political movement gained 20 seats in the Senate, a relative majority, but he would still have to make concessions in negotiations with other parties. Hernandez’s political movement has only two representatives in the lower house, so he also has to deal with lawmakers whom he has repeatedly isolated as “thieves”.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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