Gustavo Petro elected Colombia’s new president

gustavo petro colombia president
Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s president-elect, greets voters after casting his ballot in Bogotá. Photo: Carlos Ortega/EFE

Colombia made history today after electing the first left-wing president in the country’s history, Gustavo Petro. He beat Rodolfo Hernández in a runoff in which pollsters were marginally favoring the latter.

Mr. Petro took 50.7 percent of the vote with 97 percent of ballots counted, clearly ahead of Hernández who lagged behind with 47.1 percent, with 2 percent of spoiled ballots.

Although Mr. Petro was the favorite for most of the campaign, the late rise of Mr. Hernández and the backing of the country’s third-placed right-wing coalition had made the populist businessman a 60-40 favorite on betting markets. Pollsters, meanwhile, said the race was too close to call before the one-week blackout period ahead of Election Day.

Mr. Petro’s win means Francia Márquez, his running mate, is set to become Colombia’s first black vice president — an important milestone in a country with a large black population (almost 10 percent of the population) but which has been historically marginalized. Ms. Márquez is a lawyer and longtime activist. In 2018, she won the Goldman Prize.

Known as the Green Nobel Prize, the Goldman Prize has honored environmental activists from each of the six continental regions since 1989.

Outgoing President Iván Duque congratulated Mr. Petro on his win and said the two will meet within the next few days to start a “harmonious, institutional, and transparent” transition of power. The president-elect is set to take office on August 7.

At 6 pm Bogotá time, runner-up Rodolfo Hernández publicly conceded. “I’ve called Gustavo to congratulate him on his triumph and offer him my support to fulfill his promises to promote the changes Colombia voted for today,” he wrote. “Colombia can always count on me.”

Mr. Petro will now have to deliver on his promises to raise tax revenue, increase social security, reduce inequality, and introduce green and feminist agendas in Colombia. He will have a tough road ahead of him, having to deal with a divided electorate, a fragmented Congress, and a daunting economic scenario.

Colombia’s 12-month inflation topped 9 percent last month. Food and beverage prices have climbed at an even faster pace. And the increasing cost of living — especially regarding essential goods — may only serve to destabilize an already flammable political climate.

Last year, two major rating agencies stripped Colombia of its decade-old investment-grade status. Standard & Poor’s did it in May 2021, and Fitch followed in July 2021.

Fitch mentioned “the deterioration of the public finances with large fiscal deficits in 2020-22, a rising government debt level, and reduced confidence around the capacity of the government to credibly place debt on a downward path in the coming years.”