LatinNews Daily - 30 May 2022

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COLOMBIA: Petro and Hernández through to run-off

On 29 May, Colombian voters selected two anti-establishment candidates to compete in the 19 June presidential run-off vote – left-wing Gustavo Petro (Pacto Histórico) and populist Rodolfo Hernández (Liga de Gobernantes Anticorrupción).

Analysis:

Colombia is headed for drastic change. Petro was until recently seen as the main anti-establishment contender in this election, but his populist message has been eclipsed by that of Hernández, who has devoted almost all his campaigning efforts to denouncing the ruling political class. Whilst backers of the right-wing candidate Federico Gutiérrez (Equipo por Colombia) are likely to fall in line behind Hernández, Petro will struggle to expand his voter base. The poor performance by centrist Sergio Fajardo (Coalición Centro Esperanza) further limits the pool of voters who might prove amenable to Petro’s message. His best hope is to campaign hard on policy issues, but Hernández has ducked debates in the first round and will endeavour to keep his campaign on the friendly terrain of rallies and social media.

  • With 99.99% of votes counted, the latest results from Colombia’s national civic registry put Petro on 40.32% of the vote (8.52m votes), Hernández on 28.15% (5.95m), and Gutiérrez on 23.91% (5.05m). Fajardo took just 4.20% (888,000). Voter turnout was 54.91%. With no candidates having achieved the requisite 50% of the vote to win outright, the election will proceed to a run-off.
  • Hernández has managed to progress to the second round despite being a largely unknown entity – his campaign has been largely conducted on social media, where he relentlessly railed against corruption but provided few clear policy proposals. If elected, he has pledged to immediately declare a 90-day state of exception to tackle corruption at all levels of government.
  • Hernández’s unexpected surge in the final weeks of campaigning has ironically left Petro looking like the more ‘establishment’ of the two candidates, despite being painted by right-wing contenders as a serious threat to democratic stability. Petro is certainly the better-known entity, having progressed to the presidential run-off against incumbent President Iván Duque in 2018 and maintained his position as the leader of the Colombian left in the four years since. That name recognition may now count against Petro, as Hernández seeks to tar him with the same brush as the right-wing and centrist candidates who fell in the first round.
  • Facing relentless accusations that he seeks to conduct mass expropriations and weaken democratic institutions, Petro has sought to calm nerves in the business community and the middle class. In April, he ruled out conducting any expropriations if elected. Yet his pledges to disincentivise the ownership of large tracts of unproductive land and to implement a progressive tax reform are likely to be viewed by better-off voters as expropriations in all but name.
  • Gutiérrez conceded defeat and urged supporters to vote for Hernández in the second round to avoid “putting the future of Colombia at risk”.

Looking Ahead: Based on the vote distribution, Hernández appears to have the advantage in the second round. He can expect to receive the backing of most Gutiérrez supporters, which if added to his own result in the first round would give him the edge over Petro. Meanwhile, Fajardo’s poor showing limits the utility of an endorsement for Petro. Petro’s best hope will be to exploit Hernández’s lack of policy detail, which will face far greater scrutiny in the second round. Meanwhile, Hernández is due to face trial in July for improperly awarding a recycling contract during his tenure as mayor of Bucaramanga (2016-2019), which could undermine his anti-corruption message.

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