Far left-wing leader Gustavo Petro is proclaimed as Colombia’s new president with more than 51 % of the vote; over 11 million votes. Rodolfo Hernández, engineer and former mayor of Bucaramanga, got 47% of the vote with 10.5 million votes.
The election day concludes Colombia’s most agitated electoral race, with surprises such as the passage of Hernandez to the second round and the third place of Federico Gutierrez, the right-wing candidate.
Most polls showed Hernandez as the winner over Gustavo Petro, the former had the support of Federico Gutierrez, which would have given him 52% of the vote. However, in the last three weeks, Petro managed to capture millions of undecided votes from Sergio Fajardo —the fourth most voted candidate— and snatch a few from Hernandez himself.
Hernandez’s refusal to campaign, speak publicly or attend debates played against him, and he lost part of his electorate and failed to capture completely the voters of Federico Gutiérrez or other political movements with whom he refused to talk bluntly.
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Gustavo Petro’s agenda
With this result, Colombia will have its first far-left president with an openly populist and fiscally lax agenda, rather similar to that of other leftist rulers, such as Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in Argentina.
Petro’s program proposes to end investment in hydrocarbons in Colombia, renegotiate free trade agreements, expropriate land considered “unproductive” to give it to low-income peasants, and the mixed pension and health systems, where the private sector plays a fundamental role in the management of resources.
Although Petro has championed a productive transition agenda for the country to stop depending on commodity exports, the president-elect has not clarified how such transition would take place, apart from stating that future investments in the hydrocarbon and coal mining sector will be prohibited.
On several occasions, Gustavo Petro has mentioned his intention to violate the independence of Banco de la República and force the agency to forcefully lend to the government to finance public spending, a policy that has led to rampant inflation in countries such as Argentina and Venezuela.
Markets have remained pessimistic about Petro’s program, and although the country has seen an oil bonanza, Colombian assets have not appreciated accordingly due to panic over the victory of the far-left candidate.
A campaign surrounded by scandals
Although Gustavo Petro has portrayed himself as the opposition to the traditional political class, several old-time politicians and experts have joined his campaign, such as Armando Benedetti or Roy Barreras, a former Uribista and then Santistas.
Although Petro’s campaign was surrounded by scandals (such as the leak of a series of meetings where a strategy to discredit opponents was discussed, involving the visit of mafiosos to prison offering perks in exchange for “testimonies”) this was not enough to discourage undecided voters.
Former opponents, such as economist and former candidate Alejandro Gaviria, have come out in support of Petro’s proposal, thus gaining the trust of a skeptical electorate frightened by Petro’s political closeness to Venezuela’s Chavista regime and other leftist governments.
Hernandez’s tongue also played in Petro’s favor, and a series of embarrassing comments he made in several interviews were massively shared by the social networks.
As the second most voted candidate, Hernandez is guaranteed a seat in the Senate. However, the now most voted senator in the history of Colombia has not confirmed whether his coalition, La Liga Anti-corrupción, will be part of the governing parties or will be in the opposition.
Petro’s victory also marks the rise of the first Afro-Colombian to the position of vice-President, Francia Márquez, an environmental activist from Cauca who managed to captivate millions of Colombian voters with an anti-neoliberal discourse and with more similarities to President Pedro Castillo’s in Peru than Petro’s own.
The situation in Colombia
Colombia’s newly elected president will govern a divided country with a deep distrust of its political class. Although the opposition has a considerable size in Congress, leftist groups have managed to win enough seats to be able to secure majorities in votes.
Although the Colombian economy has recovered from the aftermath of the pandemic, rising unemployment and monetary poverty resulting from the quarantines have increased distrust in the Colombian state.
A tax reform clumsily communicated by the government of Iván Duque was the straw that broke the camel’s back for millions of Colombians who took to the streets in 2021. What started as protests against the tax reform, turned into a protest against the Government, whose violence escalated between demonstrators and police forces, leaving several dead due to confrontations.
In the Colombian countryside, the armed conflict between FARC dissidents and other drug trafficking groups has intensified. In some areas of the country, massive displacements and assassinations of social leaders have become common.
The new president receives a country with deep structural problems that exacerbate nonconformity among the population. In Colombia, achieving an unemployment rate below double digits seems an almost impossible task, more than half of the population is not covered by a pension, and informality or self-employed people constitute up to half of the employed population.
The state must also close a huge gap in investment in public goods between the countryside and the city. In Colombia, it is normal that rural areas abound with unpaved roads, schools with precarious facilities, and distant or non-existent hospitals.
On the economic side, Colombia has recovered solidly from the pandemic, and the new government will benefit from a boom in high hydrocarbon prices on international markets.
Gustavo Petro is the first leftist political caudillo to become Colombia’s President. Although it is unclear whether his entire agenda can pass in Congress, radical changes await this country for its economy and the stability of its democracy.