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Colombia: 3 Keys to Understanding the Presidential Runoff Election

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On May 29, presidential elections were held in Colombia and the result surprised the entire country. A man who until a few weeks ago was unknown to millions, who never attended any debate, and whose campaign was mainly done via TikTok, managed to take the position of the candidate supported by all the parties of the center-right. Now the presidential run-off will be between the extreme socialist Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernandez.

1. Federico Gutierrez failed to persuade

Federico Gutierrez was supported by all non-left parties, including Uribismo, which for years has been in charge of putting in place the president. In Colombia, “whoever Uribe said” always won. But this time it has not been like that.

The whole campaign of “Fico” — as he is popularly known — revolved around uniting all sectors and making it clear that he was the center, but his strategy simply failed to excite. Politics is about taking sides, and Fico became everything and nothing at the same time.

There are those who claim that the support of the Democratic Center and former President Uribe hurt Gutiérrez, but this is not true. The Democratic Center — although it lost votes in the legislative (congressional) elections — continues to be a party with a large electoral base, and the complaint of Uribe’s voters is mainly the lack of courage that has characterized the presidential candidates chosen by the party’s leadership.

Failed right-wing candidates who in practice were as harmful as the left (like Juan Manuel Santos) and a recent Duque government, unable to connect with people and to make real changes, disillusioned a country that has chosen an aggressive leader instead.

2. The “engineer” Rodolfo Hernández

Rodolfo Hernández is an interesting political phenomenon, which is not only explained by his performance, but by the context we described above: a country tired of traditional politics and a right-wing that feels betrayed. Hernández, a practical stranger, quickly took off and surprised all Colombians when he won a place in the presidential run-off, leaving out “Fico” Gutierrez.

Hernández has been very clever in building the false image of an outsider, far from the corruption of traditional politicians. In fact, his Twitter handle is “ingeniero Rodolfo Hernández.” He introduces himself that way as if he had nothing to do with politics, thus contributing to his image strategy.

Hernández is an extreme populist. He makes promises that any sensible person knows he will not keep, but people like being lied to. In his campaign for mayor of Bucaramanga, Hernández promised he would distribute 20 thousand lots suitable for housing construction. Hernández went as far as to create a webpage where voters could register to participate in the lottery if he won. Despite being elected, however, Hernández ended up recognizing he did not deliver.

Hernández is doing the same now as he runs for president. His proposals can seduce both leftists and people on the right. He has no theoretical background, and he doesn’t want to.

When he says things like that he will donate his salary and that most of the country’s bureaucracy must be cut, people on the right applaud. When he assures that imports should be curbed and access to higher education should be given to all young people, even eliminating entrance exams, it is the left that gives a standing ovation.

These are flashy proposals, which sound good to people who don’t go to the heart of the matter, but the truth is that none of this is going to fix the country. Taking away vehicles from politicians is not going to solve the deficit and poverty. Hernández has no serious project for the country, no clear ideas, no team of trained advisors, and is one of the most impulsive politicians Colombia could have.

Having said the above, I have no doubt that Gustavo Petro is much worse and that Colombia can endure a populist and incompetent government, but it cannot survive a socialist with tyrannical yearnings.

3. Gustavo Petro has a chance to become president

If calculations are made lightly, Hernández is already president. If you add to his votes the 5 million votes of Federico Gutiérrez, it is impossible for Gustavo Petro, the extreme left-wing ex-guerrilla fighter, to win the elections. However, there are several issues to consider.

Hernández collected very diverse votes that came together just weeks before the election and did not have much time to make an informed vote. With the spotlight on the “engineer” phenomenon, Hernández will have a few weeks in which all his stupidities and mistakes will be spread out in the media and social networks.

Those people who voted for him because he was simply proposing to give up his salary and fight corruption, may change their vote when they see videos of Hernandez beating up a councilman, saying he admires Hitler or stating that women should not participate in politics. There is a real possibility that part of his voters abstain or go with Petro.

On the other hand, although it is true that Federico Gutiérrez’s vote is essentially anti-Petro, and it is difficult for those votes to move towards the socialist candidate, it is not clear that all the votes of “Fico” will go to Hernández. Apathy and annoyance could become stronger than fear of Petro and many of those voters may simply abstain. In fact, it is likely that Petro’s campaign will dedicate these weeks to discrediting Hernández.

It should also be added that Rodolfo’s stupid statements, in the eyes of many, may make Petro look like a moderate guy. It will not be easy to deal with the “slip of the tongue” — that is how he explains it — of having said that he admires Hitler. So, that voter of “Fico” or Fajardo, who is not right-wing and who felt distrustful of Petro, upon seeing such barbarities of Rodolfo could end up voting for the socialist.

The panorama is complicated and uncertain. It is tough to vote for someone with so many flaws and without a clear plan of government, but without any doubt, I can say that Colombia would be destroyed if Petro becomes president. With Hernández, Colombians have at least the certainty that in four years there will be elections and there remains the hope that along the way he surrounds himself with the right people to help him execute a serious economic plan instead of flashy ideas without any support.

Vanessa Vallejo. Co-editor-in-chief of El American. Economist. Podcaster. Political and economic analysis of America. Colombian exile in the United States // Vanessa Vallejo. Co-editora en jefe de El American. Economista. Podcaster. Análisis político y económico de América. Colombiana exiliada en EE. UU.

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