Following congressional and first presidential elections in March, Colombians will flip to the polls to vote for a brand new president on Could 29. South America’s second-most populous nation now retains its breath, questioning whether or not frontrunner Gustavo Petro will turn out to be the primary left-of-the-center president in Colombia’s historical past.

Petro has been main the polls for greater than two years and was the clear winner of the primaries of the Pacto Histórico, a bunch of a number of leftist events. The group additionally positioned first within the congressional elections, marking the primary time a leftist get together carried out strongest within the historically very conservative nation.

Petro was a member of the city revolutionary guerrilla group M-19, which demobilized within the early Nineteen Nineties, and later turned a senator and mayor of Bogotá, Colombia’s capital. His coverage proposals are reasonable left, not too distinct from the packages of European social democrats. They promise a extra redistributive tax system, elevated funding into public training and an finish to grease extraction. 

A Time for Change

In keeping with the World Financial institution, Colombia is the second-most unequal nation in Latin America after Brazil. Virtually 40% of the inhabitants lives in poverty. So, Petro’s proposals resonate with voters. Petro has been a presidential candidate earlier than. He ran in 2010 and 2018, when he misplaced within the second spherical to Ivan Duque of the right-wing Centro Democrático get together.

Current congressional elections reveal that the left is extra prone to win this time. Many Colombians really feel it’s time for a political change after many years of right-leaning governments. In 2016, the federal government of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos signed a peace take care of the FARC, a guerrilla group. FARC had been preventing a Marxist insurgency in opposition to the Colombian military and state-aligned right-wing paramilitaries for the reason that Nineteen Sixties.

Throughout this inner armed battle, inner safety dominated political discussions, leaving little house for socio-economic points. For years, leftist politicians and activists had been discredited for his or her supposed hyperlinks to guerrilla organizations. They typically confronted stigmatization, loss of life threats or executions.

The peace deal in 2016 and the demobilization of huge components of the FARC enabled social points to come back up in political debates. Consequently, two waves of nationwide protests swept the nation in 2019 and 2021, demanding wide-reaching social and financial reforms in addition to higher state safety of social activists, who’ve fallen victims to killings. 

COVID-19 has boosted the left. “The pandemic hit poor folks most severely, and but the federal government wished to place the burden on us,” explains Víctor, a 21-old organizer of final 12 months’s protests in Bogotá. The federal government’s failure to supply reduction and, as a substitute, placing the burden on the poor has triggered outrage. Now, a president from the left all of a sudden doesn’t appear as unlikely anymore even in traditionally right-leaning Colombia.

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What May Occur within the Elections?

Whereas most observers count on Petro to win the primary spherical of elections, current polls present that he’ll doubtless fall in need of the required votes to keep away from a second spherical. Then, Petro’s doubtless opponent will likely be both Federico “Fico” Guttiérrez or Rodolfo Hernández. Fico was the winner of the first elections of a coalition of a number of right-wing events and, previously, was mayor of Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest metropolis. Hernández, an engineer and entrepreneur, who remained outdoors the first elections, is a center-right candidate and has solely risen within the polls in current weeks. He’s operating an anti-corruption marketing campaign regardless of a corruption scandal of his personal from the time when he was mayor of the northern metropolis of Bucaramanga.

As might be anticipated, the marketing campaign is getting heated. Not too long ago, Fico rhetorically addressed Petro, saying: “What you might be proposing is similar factor that Chávez stated, and look how Venezuela ended.” Fico claims he desires to forestall “castrochavismo,” a time period the Latin American proper incessantly makes use of to hyperlink left-wing coverage proposals to authoritarian regimes in Cuba and Venezuela. Fico argues that Petro’s proposed wealth redistribution can be the start line for authoritarianism and financial decline, pointing to Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua as examples. Given the presence of virtually two million Venezuelan refugees within the nation, such statements set off alarm bells amongst many Colombians.

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If there have been to be a second spherical of voting, successful the endorsement of the third-placed candidate within the first spherical for each of the highest two candidates can be key. If Fico comes third, he’ll undoubtedly assist Hernández. If Fico comes second, then the situation is much less clear. Hernández and different Colombian centrists would possibly find yourself supporting not one of the main two candidates. In 2018, after ending an in depth third within the first spherical, Sergio Fajardo refused to endorse any of the 2 candidates within the second spherical and introduced to spend election day watching whales on Colombia’s Pacific Coast. Fajardo gained the primaries for the coalition of centrists this 12 months. He’s nonetheless within the operating however his recognition has fallen over the previous few months. Relating to his 2018 choice, Fajardo now says, “It took me some time to determine it out, however I admit that was a mistake.” He could assist somebody this 12 months however it’s unclear who Fajardo would assist on this 12 months’s second spherical.

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A Ruthless and Soiled Election Marketing campaign

Within the extremely polarized nation, the previous few weeks of campaigning have been intense. Distrust between the left and the best runs excessive. Proper-wing elites have tried every part to forestall Petro’s rise, together with frequent transgressions of marketing campaign legal guidelines.

Petro and his vice-presidential candidate Francia Márquez, an environmental and human rights activist, have acquired a number of loss of life threats. This made Petro name off occasions in his marketing campaign for a number of days. He’s being rightly cautious. Presidential and political candidates have been assassinated incessantly in Colombia. Yearly, extra human rights activists are killed on this nation than another on the earth. 

The fierce opposition to Petro’s victory is compounded by the underhand strategies of the Fico marketing campaign. It has exceeded the variety of ads allowed to presidential candidates in a number of cities. Proper-wing businessmen and entrepreneurs have overtly threatened to dismiss staff who vote for Petro.

Duque, the right-wing president who can’t run once more due to a constitutional one-term restrict, is campaigning vigorously in opposition to Petro. In doing so, Duque is breaking a constitutional provision that prohibits officeholders from taking part in campaigns. Because of this, he faces a lawsuit for talking out in opposition to Petro however it’s unlikely Duque will face any penalties for his actions. In distinction, the nationwide legal professional suspended Medellín’s mayor Daniel Quintero from workplace for a lot milder assist of Petro’s marketing campaign.

The left could be unfairly focused however it has not been harmless both. Hidden microphones had been detected in Fico’s marketing campaign headquarters, confirming statements by the Petro marketing campaign that they’d infiltrated their rival’s marketing campaign group. Petro’s group claimed they’d performed so to detect vote-buying, a standard apply in Colombia.. Petro’s marketing campaign has suggested Colombians “to take the cash and purchase groceries with it however however vote for Petro.”

A Shift to the Heart

This election marketing campaign additionally reveals the waning affect of Uribismo, a right-wing populist political motion named after Alvaro Uribe. He was president of Colombia from 2002 to 2010. Throughout Uribe’s presidency, the army regained floor in opposition to a number of leftist guerrilla teams forging alliances with right-wing paramilitary teams that resulted in extreme human rights violations. 

For many years, Uribe has been probably the most influential politician in Colombia. He led a powerful marketing campaign in opposition to the 2016 peace settlement and was a key mentor of Duque. Due to Uribe’s affect, Duque campaigned in 2018, claiming “to tear the peace deal to shreds” if he was elected. This 12 months, Uribe didn’t run once more for the senate. He’s embroiled in judicial proceedings for bribing witnesses and procedural fraud. Centro Democrático, the political get together related together with his motion, got here fourth within the current elections, whereas within the earlier Congress, it was probably the most highly effective get together. Its presidential candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga needed to name a halt to his marketing campaign and now helps Fico as a substitute.

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Critics describe rightist candidate Fico as “Uribe’s man,” however they don’t seem to be precisely proper. Undoubtedly, Fico is probably the most standing quoist presidential candidate on this 12 months’s election. Nevertheless, his political program reveals a comparatively reasonable stance on many points, highlighting that Colombian politics has already turn out to be extra centrist than earlier than. Additionally, in his earlier campaigns for elections to the Medellín’s metropolis council and to be mayor, Fico ran in opposition to Centro Democrático candidates supported by Uribe. 

In contrast to Uribismo politicians, Fico supported the 2016 peace settlement and is open to relaunching negotiations for a peace take care of the ELN, a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group. Fico has chosen Rodrigo Lara Sánchez, a centrist near the inexperienced get together, as his operating mate. Despite the fact that his supporters urged him to, Fico has additionally declined to overtly assist a referendum in opposition to a current ruling by Colombia’s highest courtroom that legalizes abortion. The signal that Fico didn’t accomplish that additional underlines the shift to the middle in Colombian politics. 

Turbulent occasions forward

This 12 months, the Colombian elections are historic. If Petro wins, the current development of left-wing victories throughout Latin America will likely be bolstered in one of the conservative international locations within the area. Since 2018, leftist presidential candidates have gained elections in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, and Peru.

Petro’s proposals are daring. He has promised an finish to grease extraction, which might indicate an unprecedented transformation of the Colombian financial system. Petro has additionally promised to implement the 2016 peace deal. But guarantees are straightforward to make however notoriously tough to satisfy, particularly inside a four-year time period. Petro would have difficulties discovering a legislative majority throughout each homes of congress. Even when he was elected president with a giant majority, it’s inevitable that Petro’s coverage proposals can be diluted.If, nevertheless, Petro loses and both Fico or Hernández win, a resurgence of final 12 months’s mass-scale protests is probably going. These protests led to extreme police brutality and human rights violations, which could recur. Massive components of the inhabitants are struggling. They hope that, for the primary time, elections might yield a authorities that addresses their wants. But this hope is fragile. Belief within the political course of is proscribed and folks have already got doubts concerning the integrity of electoral outcomes. As Víctor, the 21-old activist, states: “All of us hope Petro will win however relaxation assured that we’re ready if the best steals the elections.” In case of an in depth end result, it’s fairly doubtless that Colombians might take to the streets. It appears a number of turbulent months lie forward.

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially mirror Truthful Observer’s editorial coverage.