Colombia: a second round between delay and uncertainty

Colombian Gustavo Petro went to vote last Sunday convinced that he had his hands on the presidential sash, or at least one step away from it. Several of his advisers predicted a victory in the first round or a very comfortable second round with the rightist Federico Gutiérrez on the ropes, rejected by the Colombians’ boredom with uribismo – the right-wing political current led by former president Álvaro Uribe. This was the view of the Petro committee, a former guerrilla of the M-19 group who migrated to politics, was mayor of the capital, Bogotá, parliamentarian and candidate presidential elections in 2010 and 2018 – in this one, he lost in the second round to the current president, Iván Duque.

The results of the polls showed Petro in first place as predicted in the polls, but he in the final stretch of the dispute potentially defeated. Businessman Rodolfo Hernández, the outsider candidate who presented himself as the representative of anti-politics and committed to fighting corruption, received 28% of the votes and took the dispute to a second round until then unlikely.

Just two weeks before the election, Hernández had only , 9% according to polls and had never represented There is no danger to Petro’s plans to polarize the dispute against second-placed in the polls, Federico Gutiérrez, who is Uribe’s godson. But, in the end, he was out of the race, in third place, with 24% of the votes.

Petro’s favoritism was calculated by the good performance of the left parties in the legislative elections in March of this year, when the parties take the opportunity to consult on the names of their candidates. A sort of electoral test drive that showed that Petro and Francia Márquez, who became his deputy, were an unbeatable ticket.

But one detail seems to have escaped the calculations of Petro’s socialist committee. The trauma of decades of guerrilla warfare and terrorism undertaken by the FARC and the proximity to the social and economic tragedy of Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela may be at the origin of the explanation of an unprecedented movement in the country, where the people do not make a point of voting.

In Colombia, voting is not mandatory. For this reason, abstention rates are among the highest in Latin America. In March, for example, when Petro was convinced that his time had come, less than 46% of eligible voters showed up at polling stations. The silence of 54% of voters mattered little. A miscalculation that could have been fatal for Petro’s candidacy.

The first round of the Colombian elections had the highest voter turnout rate ever 20 years old. The voter turnout came close to 55% and possibly brought with it feelings that were being neglected by both Petro and the Uribista group. Faced with the two best-positioned candidates in the polls, voters decided to join the electoral process either out of fear of Venezuelanization and the trauma of the armed left, or out of tiredness of the old local politicians.

Hernández, who was the candidate without a chance, according to the polls, won 28% of the votes, dethroned Federico Gutiérrez, with 24%, and if turned into Petro’s nightmare at the top of his 40% of votes.

The question is relatively simple. Hernández has the potential to attract the votes of Gutiérrez and other candidates, while Petro seems to have hit the ceiling.

The way out for the left-wing candidacy is to bet on voters’ dismay (increase in abstentions) or in the brutal effort of trying to show those voters who didn’t go out to vote last Sunday that Hernández is so bad that it takes a collective effort to make Colombia run by the least worst candidate.

Hernández, who today has the best chances of victory, saw his campaign accelerate in the last moments before the election and is in the second round without being able to show what he is capable of doing, what he thinks and with whom he will govern.

The second round in Colombia will be a dispute between delay and uncertainty.

Bogotá received a series of delegations of Brazilians excited by the possibility of Petro’s victory. PT and PSOL were present and posed as election observers. They dreamed of returning home with an example in their luggage that would be a sign that Brazil would be, yes, in the same leftist reflux that has carried many countries in the region.

The lessons that come from Colombia are others. Electoral polls are reference instruments, but they are not infallible. They correctly measured Petro’s size, but were unable to see the complete photograph. Therefore, what is conveniently called a “surprise” is what was not seen as a limitation or error.

Colombia teaches us that any movement within the margin of abstentions can significantly change the electoral scenario. In 2018, almost 21% of voters did not turn up to vote. Any movement within this universe has the potential to create agitation.

Finally, the voter is not just idealistic or utilitarian. He is above all pragmatic and moved by feelings very typical of those who seek survival. I tend to believe that Colombians moved not to say yes to their preferred candidate, but a huge and resounding no to the candidates they want far from Casa de Nariño, the seat of Colombia’s government.

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