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Petro to Face an Outsider in Colombia’s Presidential Runoff

Rodolfo Hernández

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Colombians went to the polls to define the two candidates who will go to the second round to compete for the presidency of the republic. The winners of the race were Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernández, who captured 41% and 28% of the voters, respectively.

Out of 39,200,000 people eligible to vote in Colombia, the voting tables counted 21,389,420 valid votes. There was a 53% turnout during the elections.

While Petro, the candidate of the left, managed to get 40% of the votes, Hernández took 28% and Federico Gutiérrez came in third place with almost 24% of the votes.

The result ended up being a surprise for many, as not less than a month ago, all polls placed Federico “Fico” Gutiérrez as Gustavo Petro’s contender in the second round. However, Rodolfo Hernández positioned himself as the candidate with the best chance to beat the Historical Pact in a runoff in the last weeks.

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The right-wing candidate Federico Gutiérrez came in third place with 24% of the votes (Image: EFE).

“Fico” Gutiérrez, on the other hand, failed to position himself as a candidate independent of the party of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, who currently has low popularity in Colombia, which negatively affected his image among some voters.

While Petro won the periphery of the country, Hernández did so in the center, where Colombia’s most populated cities are located. The former mayor of Medellín only managed to win in the region of Antioquia, where the party of former president Uribe remains strong.

Rodolfo Hernández, the outsider who positioned himself as the contender to defeat socialism in Colombia.

Rodolfo Hernández is a businessman and engineer who, having reached his senior age, decided to enter politics and managed to win the mayoralty of Bucaramanga, the capital of the Santander region. Hernández’s administration went mainly unnoticed, although he gained notoriety after slapping an opposition councilman.

Hernández managed to present himself as a political outsider, with no ties to Uribismo or the liberal and conservative parties, known as the “traditional parties” in Colombia. The former mayor of Bucaramanga also managed to present himself, before another sector of the more conservative electorate, as a candidate far from the left and Petrismo.

Candidate Hernández is a first-hand victim of the Colombian armed conflict. His daughter was kidnapped by the Marxist guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) and his father was held hostage for more than 100 days by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The presidential aspirant has proposed to reopen peace talks with these armed groups should he become president.

Colombians’ personal dislikes ended up favoring Hernández, whom voters did not identify as being on one side or the other.

The former mayor managed to position himself as an anti-corruption candidate, lacking in proposals and with an online campaign that has gone viral on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram.

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Rodolfo Hernández managed to run as a candidate far from traditional politics and the left in Colombia (Image: EFE).

Hernández’s proposals are outlandish, to the point of proposing to reactivate employment with a massive campaign of return to the countryside, where the state would give people who migrate a plot of 60 square meters.

His government program includes clearly interventionist proposals, such as raising tariffs to protect domestic manufacturing production from foreign competition. There are other clearly liberal promises, such as the reduction of VAT to a single rate of 10% and the reduction of taxes to stimulate the creation of companies.

Hernández talks about tax reduction, but says nothing about spending reduction. “El Ingeniero” seems confident that the fight against corruption will provide sufficient resources to finance his social policy. He proposes to establish rewards of up to 20% of what is recovered for those who denounce the corrupt.

Should Hernández be elected, he would be, at 77, the oldest president at the time of his inauguration —surpassed only by Manuel Antonio Sanclemente who, in 1898, took office at the age of 84—.

Although Hernández is linked to a corruption investigation for favoring third parties with public contracts during his term as mayor in Bucaramanga, it is unlikely to affect his campaign before the second round.

According to pollsters in Colombia, Hernández is the candidate most likely to beat Gustavo Petro in a runoff. If all of Federico Gutiérrez’s voters go to Hernández, the former mayor of Bucaramanga would have at least 52% of the vote, which would give him the Colombian presidency.

Petro would have to snatch voters away from Hernández or convince the population that did not vote to attend the second round and support him.

Allegations of irregularities in the Colombian elections

The electoral campaign has been surrounded by controversies and accusations between candidates. In addition, the pandemic in 2020 and the national strike in 2021 have made this election day one of the tensest in Colombia during the last decades.

Since the beginning of the day, all campaigns have denounced irregularities in the voting tables, increasing the distrust of Colombians for an already suspicious registry, which recognized 500,000 votes overnight to Petro’s coalition in a controversial recount during the congressional elections.

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Hernandez’s arrival in the second round complicates Gustavo Petro’s electoral calculation (Image: EFE)

According to the Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) 119 irregularities or electoral crimes have been reported during the first round of the elections. In up to 13% of the polling stations, there were judges wearing campaign clothing, behavior prohibited by Colombian law.

Several parties denounced that their observers were denied access to the facilities of the voting centers and in several rural areas of Colombia, drug-trafficking groups prevented people from going to exercise their rights.

Colombia will define who will be its president on June 19. To avoid a turn to the left, the right will most likely transfer its support to Hernández, who could defeat Gustavo Petro, the candidate of the São Paulo Forum.

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