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The radical leftist Gustavo Petro achieved a narrow victory with his Pacto Histórico (Historic Pact), reaching 50.44% of the total counted votes, over the centrist engineer Rodolfo Hernandez and his Liga de Gobernantes Anticorrupción (League of Anticorruption Rulers), who obtained 47.31%. There was a total of 3.43% of null and blank votes, and most important 41.91% of abstention.
While it is true that the abstention experienced in 2022 is the lowest since 1998, it shows that a little less than half of the Colombian voters are disconnected from politics, and they feel that it is useless or at least indifferent to them. This amounts to saying, in general terms, they are a society that does not feel that politics is binding, neither for their lives nor for the solution of their collective and individual problems.
I want to start my analysis by trying to explain Hernandez’s defeat, beyond the numbers. A few days ago I estimated that he would prevail over Petro in the runoff based on the estimates of the intentional votes of the followers “Fico” Gutierrez and Sergio Fajardo. While it is true that most of them voted for Hernández, it was not enough.
How Did We Get Here?
So, the key question is why didn’t Hernandez succeed in imposing himself on Petro, despite the fact that he had the intentional votes of Fico’s and Fajardo’s followers? To answer that question, we must consider several factors, which we will address from the simplest to the most complex.
From the simplest point of view, the failure was caused by, essentially, the very nature of Rodolfo Hernandez’s candidacy, that is to say, being a typical outsider project, he lacked a political party that would provide him with a structure capable of guaranteeing the maximum mobilization of voters and the defense of the votes in the greatest number of polling stations throughout the national territory.
But Hernández’s main weakness did not lie in his lack of party structure or in the fact that his programmatic proposal was not sufficiently attractive for the electorate. In our opinion, the source of the greatest weakness of Hernández’s candidacy was found in a solid anti-political sentiment deeply rooted in broad social sectors of Colombian society.
Divisions Within the Right
Additionally, based on that context, the right-wing or conservative forces, far from uniting to fight a common enemy, the left, ended up taking the flags of the left to fiercely and even irrationally attack the man who has been the father of the modern and current Colombia we know today, that is, former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez. Unhappily and unjustly, Uribe has been demonized and prosecuted in dozens of criminal cases that ultimately eroded his enormous political leadership.
Uribe marked the end of a period in Colombia’s contemporary political history, one of bipartisan democracy between liberals and conservatives, giving way to a Colombia, that beyond carrying its own hegemony (Uribism), was represented by the two presidencies of Juan Manuel Santos plus one term of Iván Duque. In historical terms, Uribe marked the end of Colombia as a failed State, characterized by violence and the dominance of narco-terrorist organizations such as the FARC and the ELN, plus the Medellin and Cali drug cartels, which had technically besieged the Colombian State and kidnapped the civilian population, leaving it subsumed in poverty and unable to generate development and prosperity.
The Future of Colombia
Finally, the center-right and conservative Colombian political class, victims of their personalism, of their inability to build a programmatic political project leveraged on the political-institutional success of the legacy of the Uribismo era, chose to go after Uribe’s head to extend the socioeconomic benefits of democracy to larger sectors of the population, especially in those territories far from the center of power, such as Colombia’s coastal and Pacific regions.
Today, Colombia will pay terribly for these mistakes after the arrival of Gustavo Petro to the Palace of Nariño.
Nahem Reyes is a PhD in history from the Andrés Bello Catholix University and associate member of the American Studies Center of the Central University of Venezuela. // Nahem Reyes es doctor en Historia de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello y miembro asociado del Centro de Estudios de América de la Universidad Central de Venezuela.