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Colombia defines future in fierce dispute

The dispute in the second round of the presidential elections in Colombia, this Sunday, presents itself as the fiercest in recent times and in a climate of high tension that, depending on the size of the advantage obtained by the winner, can lead to popular unrest in a country marked by political violence.

On the eve of the election, the result is absolutely unpredictable, since polls show a technical tie between the populist Rodolfo Hernández and the leftist Gustavo Petro, who maintained a calm lead until the first round. One of the latest polls, prepared by the company Invamer and released on Friday of last week, showed Hernández with 48, 2% of voting intentions, against 47, 2% of Petro, within the margin of error. It remains to be seen the impact on the polls of the scandal caused by the release of some videos in which Petro’s campaign discusses how to discredit its rivals, among other thorny issues.

“This century is the closest that candidates have already been in a second round, which opens up a scenario of great tension,” Andrés Segura, a partner at the company Ennoia, told the report. Carlos Ariel Sánchez, former holder of the National Registry, the institution responsible for organizing the elections, followed the same line and said that “the last fierce presidential race was in 1998”, when the liberal Horacio Serpa won the first round by a narrow margin, but lost in the second against the conservative Andrés Pastrana, who ruled between 2002 and 2002. “It is it will be very difficult, because as the results of the first round were a little unforeseen, everything that is opinion is unbalanced. Before, alliances and those who went from one side to the other were calculated, but now these accounts are very difficult to reconcile”, commented Sánchez, professor of Electoral Law at the Universidad del Rosario.

Hernández was an unexpected rival

Hernández was the big surprise to reach the second round ahead of the rightist Federico “Fico” Gutiérrez. With that impetus, he has become the toughest rival Petro could face, since, like him, he is a critical candidate of the established power that promises to bring about the change the country is demanding. With a speech dedicated exclusively to the fight against corruption and thieving politicians, and without a party structure behind him, engineer Hernández, 77 years old, obtained 5.9 million votes (28,15%) in the first round, which qualified him to face Petro , which received 8.5 million votes (40,32%).

The effect of this surprising vote placed him in first place on the starting grid of the second round, a position in which he was unable to consolidate, due to his stumbles when talking, for example, about the role of women in society or the function of the press. “This happens with new candidates (…) and these waves usually tend to fall soon. In politics, you not only have to generate this passion, but also have the ability to sustain it, and for that you need a certain type of logistical organization”, said Andrés Segura, from Ennoia. For him, after the initial shock of the result of the first round, “Petro took advantage of the weaknesses and the lack of knowledge around Rodolfo” to show who his rival really is, and thus stopped his tendency to grow in the polls.

Petro may have reached the ceiling, with whites and undecideds being decisive

Analysts point out that this time, unlike in other elections, the undecided and the blank vote they can be decisive due to the proximity between the candidates and because they are basically supports that will escape Hernández, since Petro has a faithful vote. With his 8.5 million votes, a result similar to the one he had in the second round four years ago, when he lost to the current president Iván Duque, Petro has little room to grow and that is why he bet everything on a definitive victory in the first round, while Hernández will certainly attract most of the more than 5 million votes that “Fico” Gutiérrez received and who define themselves mostly as “anti-Petristas”.

“We are talking about about 80% (of the votes on the right) that go to Rodolfo and those that don’t are getting undecided or deciding not to vote, is something that the Petro campaign underestimated. The natural destiny, the spontaneous destiny of the ‘Fico’ voter is Rodolfo”, added Segura.

There is also the possibility that part of those who say they vote blank are actually “votes of the shame” or “hidden votes” that may prefer Hernández, with all his faults, to Petro, for his controversial economic proposals and for his alliances with politicians identified as corrupt. “There can be a lot of hidden voting, although in reality in a country like this, polarized like this, more than a hidden vote, what there is is a series of votes that have not been fully accommodated”, stated Sánchez.

The problem is that, if the result is too tight, it will probably be questioned by the loser, “especially if the winner is Rodolfo”, said Segura, as there are groups that have threatened not to accept a defeat by Petro that seemed impossible a month ago. For this reason, it would be important for the winner to obtain an advantage close to 1 million votes, which is equivalent to 5% of the votes cast at the polls, so as not to generate doubts. “1 million votes is a respectable and verifiable difference, but if it is half a million, in the current situation things get hairier”, commented Sánchez.

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