a tight and high-risk examination

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D-2 before the presidential election in Colombia. For the first time in the country’s history, the second round is played without participation from the traditional right. The two finalists are the leftist candidate, Gustavo Petro and an independent outsider, the millionaire Rodolfo Hernandez who was still unknown to the general public a few months ago.

Each of the two candidates claims to represent the break with the traditional political system by Colombia. The latest polls have seen Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernandez neck and neck, between 46 and 48% of voting intentions. But these numbers are surprising. After the first round, all Colombian political analysts were indeed betting on a huge “anti-Petro” front. But it is clear that Rodolfo Hernandez has more difficulty than expected to embody this dam supposed to prevent the coming to power of Colombia’s first left-wing president.

“The polls showed above all a very large number of undecided people and even intentions to vote white says Yann Basset, professor of political science at the University of Rosario in Colombia. ” This is proof that neither of the two campaigns manages to completely convince the voters of the candidates who were eliminated in the first round, nor those who were already undecided in the first round or who did not vote. “, he adds.

A dirty campaign without debate of ideas »

And the campaign between the two towers probably did not help them to see more clearly. The duel of the two finalists was above all marked by low blows. Pirated videos of a meeting of Gustavo Petro’s team caused a scandal. They submit that his relatives have embarked on a strategy of defamation of his opponents, which contrasts with the displayed credo of the left-wing candidate of ” the politics of love and political love “.

For his part, Rodolfo Hernandez has not done better: the self-declared champion of the fight against corruption is himself entangled in a case for which he will have to appear in court in July. All of this inspires little confidence, believes Yann Basset: ” The campaign for the second round was a pretty dirty campaign, with a lot of dirty tricks but very little debate on the substance, on programs and ideas. This is something that is sorely lacking and contributes to this negative campaign that we are witnessing “.

► To read also: Presidential election in Colombia: a historic vote and a thirst for change

Voters in the center decide the winner »

After three weeks of campaigning, very many voters feel represented neither by the former guerrilla-turned-social-democrat Petro, nor by the millionaire entrepreneur with TikTok slogans, Hernandez. These Colombians are now faced with the difficult choice of having to vote for ” least worst “. ” Unfortunately, both men have populist and demagogue elements says political scientist Sergio Guzman, who heads the Colombia Risk Analysis consultancy in Bogota. ” Consequently, it is very difficult for Colombians – and especially for voters in the center who decide the winner – to make a choice between the two candidates. The abstainers, especially those in the center, could present a great disadvantage for Rodolfo Hernandez. Because the voters of Gustavo Petro are very determined in their choice. They will vote with conviction “, according to the political scientist.

Rodolfo Hernandez, surprise candidate

A supporter of center-right Colombian presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez campaigns in the streets ahead of the second round of presidential elections, in Bogota, Colombia, June 11, 2022. REUTERS – LUISA GONZALEZ

A few weeks ago, Rodolfo Hernandez was unknown to the general public. But his communication did not allow voters to get a clearer idea of ​​his program. The former mayor of the city of Bucaramanga refused to take part in a televised debate. At 77, he speaks to Colombians almost exclusively on social networks. Rodolfo Hernandez publishes videos there that rarely succeed for the minute. His hobbyhorse: the fight against corruption. With simple slogans, like ” don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t betray”this entrepreneur who made his fortune in the construction of social housing wants to be close to the voters.

But his outspokenness contrasts with the absence of a coherent political vision. His proposals range from closing Colombian embassies around the world to write off student loans to requiring all Colombians to play sports. Opposite, Gustavo Petro is, on the contrary, an old hand in politics and his program is well known to Colombians. To end social inequalities, the progressive ex-senator wants free universities, health systems and public pensions, an ecological transition, an economy based on agriculture and tourism and the resumption of negotiations with armed groups to pacify a country still plagued by violence of all kinds.

The next vice-president will be an Afro-descendant

One thing is certain: this election is already historic, since the conservatives and liberals who reigned over Colombia for 200 years were ousted in the first round. Historic too, because, for the first time in its history, the country will have an Afro-Colombian vice-president, regardless of the winner of the second round. The two finalists each chose an Afro-descendant for this position.

The real star of this electoral campaign was undoubtedly Francia Marquez. The environmental activist received the Goldman Prize in 2018 for his fight against illegal mines in his native village, in the department of Cauca. Threatened with death, this single mother had to flee with her two children and worked as a cleaning lady to feed them before studying at university. Running mate of Gustavo Petro, Francia Marquez represents more than the fight against social, racial and gender inequalities.

Posters bearing the likeness of Colombia's leftist vice-presidential candidate Francia Marquez are pictured days before the second round of the presidential election in Bogota, Colombia June 16, 2022.
Posters bearing the likeness of Colombia’s leftist vice-presidential candidate Francia Marquez are pictured days before the second round of the presidential election in Bogota, Colombia June 16, 2022. REUTERS – LUISA GONZALEZ

► Also to listen: Colombia: Francia Marquez, a future Afro-descendant vice-president

His opponent is Marelen Castillo, candidate for the vice-presidency of Rodolfo Hernandez. This 52-year-old university curator explains that she has never been the victim of racism and scrupulously avoids addressing the subject in her speeches. Marelen Castillo tries above all to soften the image of the macho Hernandez who, not so long ago, declared to anyone who would listen that ” the place of women was in the kitchen”.

Tense political and social context

Six years after the signing of the peace accords, Colombian society remains very polarized. ” For a long time Gustavo Petro claimed that only electoral fraud could bring about his defeat. A close result will therefore lead to tensions “, worries the political scientist Sergio Guzman. ” The duration of these tensions will depend on two factors: first, on the composition of the protests. So many people from different walks of life are protesting and not just one particular group. And second, the government’s response. Especially if he again decides to use excessive force. This will influence the intensity and duration of the protests », Analyzes Mr. Guzman.

For two days, the police have been arresting ” primera linea » (First lines), this is the name given to themselves last year by the demonstrators who were on the barricades during the great social protest movement, bloodily repressed by the outgoing government. President Ivan Duque called the protesters terrorists.

A few days before the second round, the authorities decided to prosecute the leaders of this movement for criminal association and terrorist acts. At least forty of them were arrested in several cities of the country. On social networks, young people denounce, on the contrary, “ preventive arrests with, according to them, a single objective: to nip in the bud any protest after the ballot.

► To read also: Press review – In Colombia, two candidates for change in the second round of the presidential election

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