Presidential Elections in Colombia, What Media Says and the Reality

By Gustavo A Maranges on June 16, 2022

Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez, a hope for Colombia

Colombia’s Presidential Elections runoff is just hours away, while tensions and uncertainty are growing fast in the South American country. Therefore, analyzing what has happened since the first round, and especially during the last week, will be helpful in understanding the final results.

The runoff will be disputed between Historical Pact’s candidate Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernandez from The League of Anti-corruption Governors, who was the “surprise” in the first round. Petro is a leftist politician who has historically battled against the Colombian right-wing sector. Meanwhile, Rodolfo Hernandez is a businessman who has avoided any kind of political definition to present himself as the “outsider candidate” in these elections. However, his political past and his electoral alliances have made it clear to those who were in doubt. Beyond any electoral strategy, he is the masked candidate of the Colombian right-wing.

Four years of Ivan Duque’s government and its disastrous economic and social balance have severely weakened the image of the Colombian pro-Uribe right-wing. The massive and long-lasting demonstrations of April 2021 ended up burying any glimmer of hope to win the current elections. Therefore, an alternative figure was needed to face Petro’s enormous political capital.

Even before reaching the first round on May 29th, it was evident that Uribe’s candidate, Fico Gutierrez, had no chance against Petro. So, they had to find someone to fight Petro, and Rodolfo was perfect for the role. He made a centrist campaign based on two principles: not facing any pole while fostering his clean-record image.

However, they all forgot to mention that Hernandez was the only candidate with an open judicial case. Curiously, he is accused of corruption during his tenure as Bucaramanga Mayor. Although he campaigned as the most honest politician on the stage and even dared to name his party “Anti-corruption League.” it is evident that his outsider image is easy to undo. It is enough to look at his record and think about why Fico backed him after the first round.

Later on and immediately after Fico’s movement, most analyses assured Petro was lost. Both consulting groups and the mainstream media said Hernandez was the winner. It is an old strategy aiming at building a “majority illusion”. This phenomenon works on the logic that people usually do not oppose what they consider to be the criteria of the majority, something that is very common these days. Then, the strategy is to undermine Petro and Francia Marquez’s possibility to count on new voters.

Taking the first-round results as a reference, Rodolfo would win if he manages to capitalize on the vote of the entire right-wing and Petro is unable to add new voters. However, Petro and his vice-president Francia Marquez have real chances to add more voters to win the elections.

The level of abstentionism in this kind of election in Colombia is historically about 50%, which means that there is a sector where the leftist candidate has more possibilities to mobilize forces than his opponents. On top of this, it is a fact that Hernandez is a well-done construction, but he also has limitations. His macho references and public admiration for Hitler show there is little political material behind the tailored image.

During the last week, the main topic has been the presidential debate. Hernandez did not take part in the presidential debates for the first round and planned to do the same for the runoff. Nevertheless, Bogota Supreme Court forced him after Petro’s team made a legal request. The right-wing candidate is afraid of debating because it would be too much public exposure with a narrow margin to do damage control.

After being forced, he has announced a list of conditions, which has been presented as a “challenge” to Petro when it is nothing but the best way to protect himself. The debate will be a key element in the outcome of the elections. Hernandez demanded the event be held in his city, Bucaramanga. Moreover, he listed the topics to be discussed, but “forgot” to mention his government agenda or opinions on the most urgent problems of Colombia, and he even got to impose three out of six moderators, while the three others should be negotiated. It is evident that the court’s decision is scary for him.

Despite this, Petro has agreed. It proves the huge differences between both candidates, not only in political issues but also in aptitudes to get the most important position in the country.

On the other hand, Petro is still not favored by polls conducted by all major media outlets. However, Google Trends shows people are more interested in Petro than in Hernandez, all around the country except for Guainia. The same happens with both vice presidents, but Francia Marquez is well ahead of her counterpart. Most searches suggest that people are looking for information about Hernandez because they do not know him, while searches related to Petro focus on whether to vote for him.

There is a high degree of uncertainty, and both candidates have pros and cons. Therefore, the story about Petro’s imminent failure is a myth. The electoral reality of an important country like Colombia is much richer than the simple sums of the first-round percentages.

Gustavo Petro has shown to have the necessary political capital to defeat his opponent, who is only standing thanks to the anti-left union of the right-wing and a very elaborated media work. Petro’s main challenge will be to mobilize those who have traditionally abstained from voting in these processes. If he wins a fraction, albeit limited, of this sector and dismantles the farce of Rodolfo Hernandez during the debate, their chances of winning would increase substantially.

Anyway, it will not be possible to announce a winner until the 39 million Colombians decide who will be their next president.

Source: Resumen Latino Americano – English