Bogotá – Colombia
Former rebel Gustavo Petro narrowly won a runoff election against a political foreign millionaire on Sunday, ushering in a new political era for Colombia by becoming the country’s first leftist president.
Petro, a senator in his third attempt to win the presidency, won 50.48% of the vote, while real estate magnate Rodolfo Hernández had 47.26%, with almost all ballots counted, according to results published by electoral authorities.
Petro’s victory underscored a sea change in presidential policy for a country that has long marginalized the left for its perceived association with armed conflict. Petro himself was once a rebel in the now-defunct M-19 movement and was granted amnesty after being imprisoned for his involvement with the group.
“Today is a day of celebration for the people. May they celebrate the first popular victory,” Petro tweeted. “May so much suffering be softened in the joy that today floods the heart of the Fatherland.”
Petro appealed for unity during his victory speech and extended an olive branch to some of his toughest critics, saying all opposition members will be welcomed into the presidential palace “to discuss the problems of Colombia”.
“From this government that is beginning, there will never be political persecution or judicial persecution, there will only be respect and dialogue,” he said, adding that he will not only listen to those who raised their arms but also “this silent majority of peasants, indigenous peoples, women, young people.
Incumbent conservative president Iván Duque congratulated Petro shortly after the results were announced, and Hernández quickly conceded defeat.
“I accept the result, as it should be, if we want our institutions to be firm,” Hernández said in a social media video. “I sincerely hope that this decision will be beneficial for everyone.”
The vote took place amid widespread discontent with rising inequality, inflation and violence – factors that led voters in the first round of elections last month to turn their backs on politicians centrists and right-wingers in power and choosing two foreigners in the third most populous region of Latin America. nation.
Petro’s demonstration was the latest left-wing political victory in Latin America, fueled by voters’ desire for change. Chile, Peru and Honduras have elected leftist presidents in 2021, and in Brazil, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the polls for this year’s presidential election.
“What I think this shows is that the strategy of fear, hatred and stigma towards the left no longer works as a policy to win over voters,” said Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst for Colombia at the firm. International Crisis Group.
But the results were an immediate cause for concern for some voters whose closest reference to a leftist government is struggling neighbor Venezuela.
“We hope that Mr. Gustavo Petro will respect what was said in his government plan, that he will lead this country to greatness, which we so badly need, and that (he) will put an end to corruption,” said Karin Ardila García, a supporter of Hernández in the north-central city of Bucaramanga. “That it doesn’t lead to communism, to socialism, to a war where they continue to kill us in Colombia. … (H)e does not take us to another Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina, Chile.
About 21.6 million of the 39 million eligible voters cast their ballots on Sunday. Abstentionism has exceeded 40% in every presidential election since 1990.
Petro, 62, will be officially declared the winner after a formal count that will take a few days. Historically, preliminary results have coincided with final results.
Several heads of state congratulated Petro on Sunday. So does a fierce critic, former President Álvaro Uribe, who remains a central figure in Colombian politics.
Polls ahead of the second round had indicated that Petro and Hernández – both former mayors – were in a tight race since overtaking four other candidates in the first election on May 29. Neither got enough votes to win and headed to the second round.
Petro won 40% of the vote in the first round and Hernández 28%, but the gap quickly narrowed as Hernández began to attract so-called anti-Petrista voters.
Petro has proposed ambitious pension, tax, health and agricultural reforms and changes to how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups. But he will find it difficult to keep his promises because he does not have the majority in Congress, which is key to carrying out the reforms.
“People who support him have very high hopes, and they’re probably going to be disappointed pretty quickly if he can’t shake things up right away,” said Adam Isacson, a Colombia expert at the Think Tank. Washington Bureau on Latin America. .
“I think you might find a situation where he either has to make deals and drop a lot of his programs just to get certain things through, or the whole country might be in lockdown,” Isacson added.
Petro is willing to resume diplomatic relations with Venezuela, which were interrupted in 2019. He also wants to bring about changes in Colombia’s relations with the United States by seeking a renegotiation of a free trade agreement and new solutions in the fight against drug trafficking.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the Biden administration is eager to work with Petro.
Hernández, who made his money in real estate, is not affiliated with any major political party and has rejected alliances. His austere campaign, waged mostly on TikTok and other social media platforms, has been self-funded and based primarily on a fight against corruption, which he blames on poverty and the loss of state resources that could be used. for social programs.
Polls indicate that most Colombians believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and disapprove of Duque, who was ineligible for re-election. The pandemic has set back the country’s poverty alleviation efforts by at least a decade. Official figures show that 39% of Colombians lived on less than $89 a month last year.
The rejection of politics as usual “is a reflection of people being fed up with the same people as always,” said Nataly Amezquita, a 26-year-old civil engineer waiting to vote. “We need to create greater social change. Many people in the country are not in the best conditions.
But even the two foreign candidates left her cold. She said she would vote blank: “I don’t like either candidate. …Neither of them strikes me as a good person.
Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela.