Former rebel Gustavo Petro wins runoff election to become Colombia’s next president
Former rebel Gustavo Petro narrowly won a runoff election over a political outsider millionaire Sunday, ushering in a new era of politics for Colombia by becoming the country’s first leftist president.
Petro, a senator in his third attempt to win the presidency, got 50.47% of the votes, while real estate magnate Rodolfo Hernández had 47.27%, with almost all ballots counted, according to results released by election authorities.
Petro’s victory underlined a drastic change in presidential politics for a country that has long marginalized the left for its perceived association with the armed conflict. Petro himself was once a rebel with the now-defunct M-19 movement and was granted amnesty after being jailed for his involvement with the group.
“Today is a day of celebration for the people. Let them celebrate the first popular victory,” Petro tweeted. “May so many sufferings be cushioned in the joy that today floods the heart of the Homeland.”
At his headquarters in the capital city of Bogota, a message on a screen read, “Gracias Colombia,” or “Thank you Colombia.”
Newly elected Colombian President Gustavo Petro (C) celebrates next to his wife Veronica Alcocer and his running mate Francia Marquez at the Movistar Arena in Bogota, on June 19, 2022 after winning the presidential runoff election on June 19, 2022.
DANIEL MUNOZ/AFP via Getty Images
Outgoing conservative President Iván Duque congratulated Petro shortly after results were announced, and Hernández quickly conceded his defeat.
“I accept the consequence, as it should be, if we want our institutions to be firm,” Hernández said in a video on social media. “I sincerely hope that this decision is advantageous for everyone.”
The vote came amid extensive discontent over rising inequality, inflation and violence — factors that led voters in the election’s first round last month to turn their backs on long-governing centrist and right-leaning politicians and choose two outsiders in Latin America’s third-most populous nation.
Petro’s showing was the latest leftist political victory in Latin America fueled by voters’ desire for change. Chile, Peru and Honduras elected leftist presidents in 2021, and in Brazil, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the surveys for this year’s presidential election.
“What I do think it shows is that the strategy of fear, hate and stigmatization towards the left no longer works as a policy to win voters,” said Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst for Colombia at the firm International Crisis Group.
But the results were an immediate reason to fret for some voters whose closest reference to a leftist government is the troubled nearby Venezuela.
“We hope that Mr. Gustavo Petro complies with what was said in his government plan, that he leads this country to greatness, which we need so much, and that (he) ends corruption,” said Karin Ardila García, a Hernández supporter in the north-central city of Bucaramanga. “That he does not rule to communism, to socialism, to a war where they continue to kill us in Colombia. … (H)e does not rule us to another Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina, Chile.”
About 21.6 million of the 39 million eligible voters cast a ballot Sunday. Abstentionism has been above 40% in every presidential election since 1990.
Supporters of Colombian left-wing presidential candidate Gustavo Petro celebrate after the presidential runoff election in Cali, Colombia, on June 19, 2022. – Colombia’s first ever left-wing President-elect Gustavo Petro on Sunday lauded the “first popular victory” following his election success against millionaire businessman Rodolfo Hernandez.
PAOLA MAFLA/AFP via Getty Images
Petro, 62, will be officially declared winner after a formal count that will take a few days. Historically, the preliminary results have coincided with the final ones.
Several heads of state congratulated Petro on Sunday. So did a fierce critic, former President Álvaro Uribe, who remains a central figure in Colombia’s politics.
surveys ahead of the runoff had indicated Petro and Hernández — both former mayors — were in a tight race since they topped four other candidates in the initial May 29 election. Neither got enough votes to win outright and headed into the runoff.
Petro won 40% of the votes in the initial round and Hernández 28%, but the difference quickly narrowed as Hernández began to attract so-called anti-Petrista voters.
Petro has hypothesizedv ambitious pension, tax, health and agricultural reforms and changes to how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups. But he will have a tough time delivering on his promises as he does not have a majority in Congress, which is meaningful to carrying out reforms.
“The people who do sustain him have very high hopes, and they are probably going to be disappointed pretty quickly when he can’t move things right away,” said Adam Isacson, an expert on Colombia at the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.
“I think you might find a situation where he either has to strike some deals and give up a lot of his programs just to get some things passed or the whole country could be gridlocked,” Isacson additional.
Hernández, who made his money in real estate, is not affiliated with any major political party and rejected alliances. His austere campaign, waged mostly on TikTok and other social media platforms, was self-financed and based mostly on a fight against corruption, which he blames for poverty and the loss of state resources that could be used on social programs.
surveys say most Colombians believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and disapprove of Duque, who was not eligible to seek reelection. The pandemic set back the country’s anti-poverty efforts by at the minimum a decade. Official figures show that 39% of Colombia’s lived on less than $89 a month last year.
The rejection of politics as usual “is a reflection of the fact that the people are fed up with the same people as always,” said Nataly Amezquita, a 26-year-old civil engineer waiting to vote. “We have to create greater social change. Many people in the country aren’t in the best condition.”
But already the two outsider candidates left her cold. She said she would cast a blank ballot: “I don’t like either of the two candidates. … Neither of them seems like a good person to me.”
Click: See details