Following the first round of presidential elections, in which no candidate received a majority of the votes, Colombia’s top two candidates will compete in a runoff election on June 19, 2022.
Colombia is caught up in their presidential election since the current president, Ivan Duque, is ineligible for reelection – restricted by term limits. Elected in 2018, Duque has upheld the status quo set before him, but as he leaves office Colombian voters are itching for change.
President Duque has left severe inequality and poverty to be inherited by his successor. Colombia is one of the most unequal countries with forty percent of their population living below the poverty line and, on average, has an unemployment rate greater than eleven percent.
Duque is also known for his disregard of human rights and the violent response of Colombian armed forces and police, under his power, to protests.
The first round of the presidential election took place on Sunday May 29, 2022 in which there were three major candidates, each wildly different from one another.
First, and most different from President Duque, is leftist Senator Gustavo Petro. Petro is a retired member of the guerilla group M-19 and former mayor of Bogota; His ascension to the presidency would be historic as he would be Colombia’s first leftist president.
Petro came out of the gate as the frontrunner with progressive and slightly radical, economic and environmental priorities. He speaks of moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewable wind, solar, and hydropower energy. Petro will also combat inequality by taxing the rich, reforming the healthcare and pension systems, and combating corruption.
In pre-election polls, Petro was at the top, with forty percent of voters, likely because of the hope that he has given the country. Having differentiated himself so clearly from his opponents, Petro is ultimately the face of change in Colombia.
The seemingly other frontrunner, Fernando “Fico ” Guttierez, is the former mayor of Colombia’s second largest city and is most definitely the candidate of continuity. Fico was supported by all the traditional parties and this is what made him unappealing to voters, since they have been frustrated with the current administration. Colombia’s lust for change forced people away from supporting Fico and maintaining the status quo.
The third candidate, wildcard Rodolfo Hernandez suddenly gained support just before the election. He ran his campaign primarily on TikTok and is frequently compared to former President Trump and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO). All are sort of outsider businessmen who see themselves as able to contribute to politics, and their anti-establishment populism appeals to voters.
Leading up to election day, the establishment’s center-right candidate remained a frontrunner, but on May 29, 2022 the results were astounding. Petro received 47% of the vote, just below the 50% needed to escape a runoff, Gutierrez received 23% of the vote and Hernandez received 28%. Hernandez managed to beat Fico, so he will participate in the June 19 runoff against Petro.
This result leaves things post-election even more up in the air. While both are anti-establishment, the change that Petro represents is toward peace and Hernandez toward fear and violence. Will either, though, strengthen democracy?
Concerningly, having called out Hernandez for the corruption investigation against him and proclaiming he would soon be sentenced, Gutierrez now supports Hernandez in the runoff. This is for the preservation of the sophisticated, fraudulent establishment characterized by violence and terror that Petro, and the left, pose a threat to. The state of Colombia’s democracy is already questionable and this election serves to be a major turning point.
While the initial success of Petro seems promising, the danger of the runoff election is that voters for Fico and Hernandez will unite to defeat Petro. This may be the most terrifying outcome of all for Colombians. Petro and Fico were each calculated leaders in their party but Hernandez is unpredictable.
It is possible that Hernandez’s temperament and attitude are dangerous. For instance when serving as mayor, Hernandez was suspended twice. First, for slapping a legislator and second, for meddling in an election while holding public office. Hernandez has proposed a daily press conference in which he would expose and shame corrupt politicians, giving little facts on the matter.
Hernandez has also expressed admiration for El Salvador’s Bukele and Mexico’s AMLO. In fact, his daily broadcasting idea is similar to AMLO’s “mananeras” in which he speaks to the public daily for the sake of spreading his own narrative as news.
Similarly, Hernandez conducted the majority of his campaign on the social media platform TikTok, on which it is much more difficult to control disinformation. For instance, in the Philippines’ most recent presidential election the son of former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, launched his campaign on TikTok as well. Here, Marcos Jr. manipulated the historical narrative critical of his father to create his own success.
The spread of disinformation and the obvious manipulation of institutions are both characteristics of Colombia now, and are why Colombians are fighting for change. The results of the runoff will undoubtedly change the status quo but in which direction will Colombia turn? Right? Or left?
DemocracyNow, director. YouTube, YouTube, 31 May 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJ6F8N9mNyg. Accessed 3 June 2022.
“Take the First Left? Colombia’s Election.” Acast, https://play.acast.com/s/theintelligencepodcast/takethefirstleft-colombia-selection.
Hi Maggie, I liked reading your article. This is a very interesting time in Colombia. The fact that there is a strong Left wing candidate on one side versus a ultra conservative wild card candidate on the other will mean that the results of the election will be very significant. While both candidates seem to have some populist tendencies, Hernandez is really worrying. In addition to his general disregard for democratic norms and institutions, it is highly likely he would use emergency powers to suspend other branches of government for corruption investigations.
I really liked your comparison to the elections in the Philippines. It’s so upsetting to see how radicals and populists are using social media to gain supporters. I think this is something we are going to see increase in the future as populists and social media both thrive on cults of personality.