Colombian Presidential Election Heats Up in Final Weeks

Kevin Arango
Staff Writer

With the first round of Colombia’s presidential elections set to take place on May 29, the stakes are rising as candidates representing vastly different views prepare to face off. Colombia experienced massive protests in 2021, according to BBC News, and this election will demonstrate the strength of opposition movements in the country. The election is currently contested among three major candidates: Gustavo Petro from the left-leaning “El Pacto Historico” coalition, Federico Gutierrez of the right-wing “Coalición Equipo por Colombia,” and an anti-corruption candidate named Rodolfo Hernandez. 

Gustavo Petro, a former Senator and Mayor of Bogotá, aims to be the first leftist president in Colombia’s history. Petro is the leader of “El Pacto Historico,” a unified coalition of leftist parties that has performed strongly in recent elections, claiming 21 out of 108 seats in the senate–more than any other party, El País reports. According to France 24, Petro is the favorite candidate in a poll conducted by Colombian pollster Invamer, with 43 percent of the participants stating their intent to vote for him. 

Petro, a former member of the left-wing M-19 insurgency, has faced heavy opposition from the traditional Colombian parties which he fought against in the 1990s. He has also found difficulty in capturing the votes of older generations as a result of their traditional conservative values. Support for Petro remains strong among young people, however, who see him as a  force for change against the traditional Colombian establishment. 

Federico “Fico” Gutierrez, the former mayor of Medellin, is the right’s most prominent candidate in the race. Gutierrez is the head of the “Coalición Equipo por Colombia,” a coalition of parties on the right and center-right that, as La FM reports, includes some of the most powerful parties in the nation, such as the historic “Partido Conservador” and former President Uribe’s “Partido de la U.” In the same poll by Invamer, Gutierrez was Petro’s closest competitor with 27.7 percent of voters pledging their support. 

As a former member of the “Partido de la U” when Alvaro Uribe was still at the helm, Gutierrez is seen by many as the candidate of the establishment, garnering strong support from traditionally conservative areas of the country. However, in the aftermath of 2021 protests against the government of current right-wing President Ivan Duque, the right has been trailing in the polls. According to Al Jazeera, Duque’s government was accused of human rights abuses during his crackdown on protestors. 

The former mayor of Bucaramanga, Rodolfo Hernandez, is the unexpected third force in the election. Emerging relatively late in the race, Hernandez has amassed over 300,000 followers and 2.5 million likes on TikTok, while videos mentioning his name have produced as many as 500 million views. Hernandez is part of the “Liga de Gobernantes Anticorrupción,” a party whose mission is to end corruption in Colombia. Hernandez’s social media success has translated well into the polls, with the magazine Semana reporting that he is polling at 13.9 percent, behind only Petro and Gutierrez. 

Hernandez’s strong anti-corruption message has resonated with young people, who were also drawn to his propositions. Hernandez, however, has come under heavy scrutiny by the media as he has shown ignorance of basic Colombian geography in recent interviews, a fact that many have interpreted as him being unfit to govern. Hernandez is unlikely to make it to the second round, but his supporters will be pursued by both Petro and Gutierrez and could potentially decide the presidency. 

As current President Ivan Duque remains one of the most unpopular presidents in Colombia’s history, according to Barrons, the path that voters choose in May will have significant implications for Colombia and Latin America at large. A Petro victory would demonstrate the growing strength of the left in Latin America, according to The New York Times, whereas a Gutierrez victory would represent a victory for the status quo.

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