Weekly Report - 23 June 2022 (WR-22-25)

Petro takes Colombia into uncharted waters

For the first time in history Colombia will have an out-and-out left-wing president in August after Gustavo Petro defeated his populist rival, Rodolfo Hernández, in the second round of elections on 19 June. Petro’s running mate, Francia Márquez, an environmental activist, will become the country’s first Afro-Colombian vice president, representing a segment of society long marginalised and victimised. Petro gave a conciliatory victory speech, offering to work with parties from across the political spectrum in a ‘grand national accord’ to advance key reforms. But he will face a hostile, albeit rudderless, opposition in congress that could conspire against his promise to deliver meaningful change.

Petro won by a decisive three percentage points (50.4%-47.3%), dispelling any fear of electoral fraud. The margin of victory was a bit more comfortable than pollsters had suggested. There are various possible reasons for this, but chief among them was most likely Hernández’s credibility. The emphatic rejection of Colombia’s established ruling class in the first round allowed Hernández to creep through to the run-off at the expense of the ‘continuity’ candidate Federico Gutiérrez. But when Gutiérrez’s support transferred to him en masse, especially given Hernández’s lack of concrete campaign proposals, there was some suspicion that he was not quite the candidate for change he claimed to be. And vacillating voters may well have lost faith in Hernández for the manner in which he refused to abide by a judicial ruling days before the elections ordering him to hold a debate with Petro on 16 June.

Hernández did everything he could to duck the debate before finally accepting, but only after setting a series of conditions designed to deter Petro: that the debate take place in Bucaramanga, the departmental capital of Santander where he served as mayor, for “security reasons”; that he choose the moderators; and that it must be restricted to 20 issues, among them political campaigns discrediting rivals and alliances with politicos, all calculated to dissuade Petro, who faced criticism on these fronts, from participating. Petro called his bluff and accepted. In a blow to his credibility, a rattled Hernández was left stammering in an incoherent statement on social media that Petro had refused to debate him.

Petro won 11.28m votes, just over 700,000 more than his rival with some 500,000 blank ballots cast. He won in 16 departments, twice as many as in his second-round defeat in 2018, as well as the Capital District. Hernández also triumphed in 16 departments, excelling in areas where anti-petrismo is particularly virulent, such as the north-eastern departments of Norte de Santander and Santander (although even here Petro won in the second largest city in the department, Barrancabermeja) and winning in all of the central departments and the Efe Cafetero coffee-growing axis of Caldas, Quindío, and Risaralda.

There were only two departments, however, where Petro’s share of the vote declined in comparison with his second-round performance in 2018 – Arauca and Boyacá – and even then only slightly (see table below). In all the other departments it increased and in many of these substantially, notably the southern departments of Putumayo and Nariño, where he won over 80% of the vote, Pacific coastal departments, such as Chocó, and Caribbean coastal departments, such as La Guajira, where he had won in just two departments in 2018 (see maps below). But perhaps most importantly Petro limited his losses in places where he has never fared well, notably the populous Uribista stronghold of Antioquia (up by 11 percentage points), and the conservative Eje Cafetero departments.

Presidential elections second round result by department size
(parenthesis denotes Petro’s performance compared with 2018 second round)

 

Petro (%)

Hernández (%)

Votes cast

Bogotá

59 (+6)

39

3.887,345

Antioquia

33 (+11)

64

2.897,749

Valle del Cauca

64 (+12)

34

2.083,258

Cundinamarca

44 (+5)

54

1.438,386

Santander

26 (+9)

73

1.201,606

Atlántico

67 (+12)

31

1.009,424

Bolívar

61 (+14)

37

815,621

Nariño

81 (+17)

17

743,013

Córdoba

61 (+13)

37

722,037

Norte de Santander

21 (+3)

78

721,905

Cauca

79 (+14)

19

666,066

Boyacá

40 (-2)

58

664,456

Tolima

39 (+9)

60

663,662

Huila

41 (+9)

57

589,813

Magdalena

60 (+14)

38

506,988

Meta

36 (+4)

62

505,550

Caldas

40 (+12)

57

483,795

Risaralda

46 (+13)

51

479,002

Cesar

53 (+9)

46

478,266

Sucre

64 (+14)

34

413,094

Quindío

42 (+11)

55

279,721

La Guajira

65 (+17)

34

255,574

Casanare

28 (+4)

70

207,416

Caquetá

44 (+10)

54

168,911

Chocó

82 (+23)

17

159,360

Putumayo

80 (+10)

19

140,104

Arauca

31 (-1)

67

104,866

Guaviare

44 (+8)

53

34,094

Amazonas

55 (+8)

44

23,851

Vichada

39 (+6)

59

19,596

San Andrés y Providencia

51 (+16)

45

16,771

Guainía

53 (+13)

46

12,571

Vaupés

74 (+14)

25

8,762

Total

50 (+8)

47

22.687,910

Turnout of 58.2% was the highest since 1998, with voter participation standing at 22.7m out of an electorate of just over 39m. The most significant increase was among younger voters exercising their suffrage for the first time. Petro paid tribute to them during his victory speech, when he promised to respond to their yearning for change. But he also struck a conciliatory note. He acknowledged that the elections had produced a near 50/50 split and that there was a need to overcome polarisation. Widespread public disillusionment with Iván Duque’s presidency is an object lesson for Petro in the failure to build bridges with representatives of the other half of the country that voted against him.

During his speech, Petro advocated “a national accord” with diverse political and economic sectors behind major state policies, such as tax reform (again) - the last one was the catalyst for serious social protests in 2019 - implementing the peace accord, and energy transition. He said he would strive to forge “unity in diversity…a pluralist accord to create a climate without sectarianism and hatred”.

Two members of the centrist Partido de la U (PU) that joined Petro’s campaign, Senators Roy Barreras and Armando Benedetti, will lead efforts to build a consensus between Petro’s left-wing coalition Pacto Histórico and other congressional blocs. Both are old hands. Benedetti is a former president of the senate; Barreras, a veteran politician who has served several traditional parties. On 20 June they met senators and deputies elected for Pacto Histórico to explain the necessity of constructing consensus and common accords rather than seeking to impose the government’s agenda.

Barreras said that peace, social justice, and the environment would be the three key projects of the new government. This is likely to be the most fertile ground for agreement with centrist parties such as the Alianza Verde (AV) and Coalición Centro Esperanza (CCE), which Barreras described as “our natural ally in recovering the road to peace”, although the recently leaked videos showing Barreras conspiring to discredit the CCE’s presidential candidate, Sergio Fajardo, during the campaign will make these talks more difficult than they might otherwise have been [WR-22-24].

Another possible ally is the traditional centre-left Partido Liberal (PL), which will have a significant representation in both the lower chamber of congress and the senate. The PL party president, César Gaviria, opposed Petro in the elections, but he had good backing from others within the party as well as PL grassroots. The PU, like the PL, contains different factions that are pro- and anti-Petro.

But Barreras and Benedetti do not intend to stop there. Benedetti said Petro’s old foe former president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), the leader of the outgoing right-wing Centro Democrático (CD), would be indispensable in forging this accord. “Any national accord has to start with contacting Uribe,” Benedetti said during the meeting with the incoming Pacto members of congress. Uribe, who while president lashed out at Petro as a “terrorist in a suit” for his parapolitics investigations in the senate, might respect the approach. It was noteworthy that Uribe did not respond to Petro’s victory with the outright hostility of others on the right. “To defend democracy, it is necessary to abide by it. Gustavo Petro is the president. Let us be guided by one sentiment: Colombia first,” Uribe tweeted.

Petro said that any leaders of the opposition, even mentioning Uribe by name, would be welcome in the Casa de Nariño presidential palace at any time to discuss Colombia’s problems with him. “There will undoubtedly be opposition. But in this government there will never be political or judicial persecution, only respect and dialogue,” Petro said in his victory speech. There may even be the offer of cabinet positions to members of other parties.

Peace

Petro is committed to implementing the 2016 peace accord with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc) in its true spirit in its entirety, not with great reluctance while trying to undercut various points and ignore others like Duque. For instance, he would bolster the transitional justice system (JEP) and create agrarian systems of justice to try and resolve the land disputes that lie at the root of the country’s armed conflict.

Petro also explicitly mentioned in his campaign manifesto the resumption of talks with the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), which started in 2017 but have been suspended throughout most of the outgoing administration. The central command (Coce) of the ELN issued a statement after the elections saying that it would be open to returning to the negotiating table provided that Petro undertake agrarian reform and various other “urgent” reforms, such as “political and economic inclusion…and a new security and human rights doctrine”, and not deliver “more of the same”.

Diplomacy

Cuba hosted the ELN talks, and President Miguel Díaz-Canel expressed his country’s total commitment to peace in Colombia during his swift congratulations to Petro on his “historic popular victory”. Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro also congratulated Petro, who called him on 22 June to discuss restoring “the full exercise of human rights on the [shared] border”. Petro’s recognition of the Maduro government has been singled out by some as an early source of tensions with the US government which continues to recognise the opposition leader Juan Guaidó. But the US government sent a high-level delegation to Caracas in March for secret talks with Maduro, irking the Duque administration in the process [WR-22-10], so there might not be quite so much separating them in private as there appears to be in public.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wasted no time in phoning to congratulate Petro, and President Joe Biden followed suit. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols downplayed any differences in an interview with the national daily El Tiempo on 20 June. Nichols said bilateral relations went “far beyond a single government” and the US was ready to discuss “shared priorities”, such as climate change, energy transition, and protection of the environment. Nichols did not rule out revising aspects of the bilateral free trade agreement that Petro argues are inimical to Colombian agriculture, and he said the US was supportive of the idea of alternative development in coca-growing areas and confronting the challenges faced by rural communities. US Republicans are likely to be less understanding in congress.

Results

Petro won in four of the five largest cities. In Bogotá, where he has previously served as mayor, he won 59% of the vote, although the wider department of Cundinamarca went to his rival by 53%-44%. In Medellín, the capital of Antioquia, Petro went down 62.5%-34%. But in Cali, the capital of Valle del Cauca, he won 64% of the vote; Barranquilla, the capital of Atlántico, 64%; and Cartagena, the capital of Bolívar, 67%.

 

LatinNews
Intelligence Research Ltd.
167-169 Great Portland Street,
5th floor,
London, W1W 5PF - UK
Phone : +44 (0) 203 695 2790
Contact
You may contact us via our online contact form
Copyright © 2022 Intelligence Research Ltd. All rights reserved.