Petro, Hernández to face off in Colombia’s presidential runoff

Colombia presidential left-wing presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, of the Historic Pact coalition, waves as he arrives to a debate in Bogota, Colombia May 26, 2022. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez
Colombian left-wing presidential candidate Gustavo Petro got over 40 percent of the votes. Photo: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters via Alamy

Colombian voters delivered a significant blow to the country’s establishment conservatives, voting left-wing Senator Gustavo Petro and populist businessman Rodolfo Hernández into the June 19 runoff election.

Mr. Petro, who promises deep reforms to Colombia’s economic model, massively improved on his performance from four years ago when he lost to outgoing President Iván Duque. In 2018, Mr. Petro obtained 4.8 million votes. With 98 percent of ballots counted, the leftist former mayor of Bogotá has already received 8.4 million votes — or 40.3 percent of the total.

Mr. Hernández, who has surged in the polls over recent weeks — thanks mainly to his anti-establishment rhetoric, anti-corruption promises, and ubiquitous social media presence — qualified for the second round with 28 percent. 

The results represent a political defeat to Álvaro Uribe, a former president who continues to cast a large shadow over the political system. Fico Gutiérrez, his candidate, couldn’t sustain the second position, getting almost 24 percent of the vote. 

Mr. Gutiérrez’s disappointing performance and recent run-ins with the justice system show that Mr. Uribe’s clout may be waning.

Mr. Petro, a former member of a left-wing guerrilla group, and Mr. Hernández, a self-made construction tycoon, benefited from voters’ deep frustration with rising poverty, inequality, and an uptick in homicide rates. 

Colombia has been riddled with 10-percent inflation, a youth unemployment rate reaching 20 percent (and threatening to keep an entire generation of workers from reaching their full economic potential), and a 40-percent poverty rate. Mr. Duque, who is ending his term, enjoys a paltry 20-percent approval rating.

The two remaining presidential candidates answer to voters’ desperate need for change, although they propose very different paths moving forward. 

As Latin America reporter Ignacio Portes showed, the highlights of campaign promises proposed by Gustavo Petro include hefty tax and spending hikes, a pension reform, and a ban on oil exploration. Mr. Hernández’s platform, meanwhile, is heavily anchored on fighting corruption.

If Mr. Petro wins, he will become Colombia’s first left-wing president. But he won’t cruise to victory. Polls show Mr. Hernández within the margin of error of victory in many runoff surveys, with a few even putting him slightly ahead of Mr. Petro.

Many feared potential violent acts as voters reached the polls, especially since Gustavo Petro denounced an alleged assassination plot against him. Defense Minister Diego Molano reported that Election Day passed peacefully throughout the country. However, there were three incidents without significant effects.

“We had three explosive devices triggered without affecting the public force or the civilian population. In one case, a soldier was injured, treated, and is out of danger,” Mr. Molano said.