A narrow Colombian runoff raises the former millionaire rebel

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BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombian voters will choose between a former rebel and an unpredictable millionaire on Sunday when they vote in a presidential run-off that promises to reshape the country after a first round of elections that punished the political class.

Polls show that left-wing Gustavo Petro and outsider Rodolfo Hernandez – both former mayors – are virtually tied after leading four other candidates in the May 29th primary, in which neither received enough votes to win the final , which necessitated the runoff. About 39 million people are eligible to vote on Sunday, but abstains are more than 40 percent of every 1990 presidential election.

Colombians are voting against a backdrop of widespread dissatisfaction with growing inequality, inflation and violence. Dissatisfaction with the country’s conditions is such that in the first round, voters turned their backs on long-ruling centrists and right-wing politicians and elected two outsiders.

Petro, a 62-year-old senator, is in his third presidential campaign. Petro’s victory would put an end to the long-standing marginalization of the left-wing electorate due to its alleged connection to the nation’s armed conflict. Petro was once a rebel with the now-defunct M-19 movement and was amnestied after being jailed for joining the group.

He proposed ambitious pension, tax, health and agricultural reforms and changes in the way Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups. He received 40% of the vote in last month’s election and Hernandez 28%, but the gap quickly narrowed as Hernandez began collecting so-called anti-Petrist votes.

Petro could become the last left-wing political victory in Latin America, fueled by voters’ desire for change. Chile, Peru and Honduras have elected left-wing presidents in 2021, and in Brazil, former president Luis InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva is leading the polls for this year’s presidential election.

Hernandez, 77, who made his money from real estate, is not affiliated with any major political party and has rejected alliances. His rigorous campaign, conducted mainly on TikTok and other social media platforms, was self-funded.

His proposals are based on the fight against corruption, which he blames for poverty and the loss of state resources that could be used for social programs. He wants to reduce the size of the government by removing various embassies and presidential offices, turning the presidential palace into a museum and reducing the use of the president’s fleet.

Hernandez jumped past the more conventional candidates at the end of the campaign in the first round and shocked many when he finished second. He faced controversy, including saying he admired Adolf Hitler and then apologized, saying he meant Albert Einstein.

Sylvia Otero Bahamon, a professor of political science at the University of Rosario, said that although both candidates are populists who “have an ideology based on the division between the corrupt elite and the people”, each sees his struggle against the establishment differently. .

“Petro refers to the poor, ethnic and cultural minorities in the most peripheral regions of the nation, who are finally taken into account and invited to participate in democracy,” Otero said. While Hernandez supporters are more ethereal, they are people who are frustrated with politics and corruption. It’s a freer community that the candidate can reach directly through social media. “

Surveys show that the vast majority of Colombians believe the country is moving in the wrong direction and disapprove of President Ivan Duque, who was not eligible to run for re-election. The pandemic has delayed the country’s efforts to fight poverty for at least a decade. Official figures show that 39% of Colombians lived on less than $ 89 a month last year, a slight improvement from 42.5% in 2020.

The impending change from traditional presidential policy has caused fear in some in this conservative, mostly Roman Catholic country. Many base their decision on what they don’t want instead of what they want.

“A lot of people said, ‘I don’t care who goes against Peter, I’m going to vote for anyone who represents the other candidate, no matter who that person is,'” said Silvana Amaya, a senior analyst at Control Risks. “It simply came to our notice then. Rodolfo is portrayed as this crazy old man, a communication genius and an extravagant character that some people say: “I don’t care who I vote for, but I don’t want him to be my president.”

Both will have difficulty fulfilling their promises, as neither has a majority in Congress, which is key to reform.

In the last parliamentary elections, Petro’s political movement won 20 seats in the Senate, a relative majority, but he will still have to make concessions in negotiations with other parties. Hernandez’s political movement has only two representatives in the lower house, so he will also have to seek agreements with lawmakers, which he expropriates, repeatedly calling them “thieves.”

Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela.

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