Bogota, Colombia – As Colombia prepares for the primary spherical of its extremely contested presidential elections on Sunday, the phrase that appears to be on everybody’s thoughts is “change”.
Up till just lately, the race has been largely dominated by two candidates which have grown to symbolize the political and social divisions that break up the polarised South American nation.
On one facet, left-wing former insurgent fighter Gustavo Petro and his vice-presidential operating mate, Afro-Colombian activist Francia Marquez, have overwhelmingly led polls with a promise of reducing inequality and poverty and an anti-establishment message.
On the opposite facet is conservative civil engineer Federico “Fico” Gutierrez, who has trailed Petro however is attracting the assist of many right-wing Colombians in addition to the nation’s political institution, which fears what electing Petro may imply.
But, in latest weeks, a curveball candidate has quickly gained momentum, throwing a as soon as clear-cut race into unsure waters.
“There are not any clear winners proper now,” stated Sandra Borda, a political science professor at Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, the capital. “There’s numerous uncertainty of what’s going to occur.”
‘A complete change’
Rodolfo Hernandez, a right-leaning impartial populist who has largely lagged behind within the race thus far, has made a shocking soar in recognition in a number of polls.
He has gone from having 9.6 % of the vote final month to 19.1 %, based on a Might 19 ballot by Centro Nacional de Consultoria, placing him neck-and-neck with conservative competitor Gutierrez.
“The Colombian folks and I are the one ones who can beat Petro within the second spherical,” Hernandez just lately stated, tweeting out ballot outcomes. “I will probably be your president.”
However the populist candidate, usually in comparison with former US President Donald Trump, has set political observers like Borda on edge.
Hernandez, 77, amassed a fortune from a development enterprise within the northeastern Santander area. The previous mayor of the small northern metropolis of Bucaramanga, he gained notoriety for his blunt, unfiltered approach of talking and his guarantees to put off endemic corruption.
Through the years, the now-candidate has been sued by a firefighter after Hernandez referred to as the fireplace division “fats and lazy”, made xenophobic feedback about Venezuelan migrant girls, and, in 2018, hit a metropolis councilman within the face whereas on digicam after a heated argument.
In a 2016 interview with a Colombian radio station, he additionally advised the hosts, “I’m an enormous follower of an important German thinker: Adolf Hitler.” Hernandez later apologised, saying the particular person he truly meant to quote was Albert Einstein.
But his anti-corruption message and place as a relative outsider have gained the assist of many Colombians, together with 74-year-old Ligia del Carmen Roa, who stood exterior one in every of Hernandez’s marketing campaign centres in Bogota.
She wore a vivid yellow t-shirt with Hernandez’s face on it, honking horns and handing out fliers to passersby. Most of the volunteers, she stated, had been like her: from a poorer neighbourhood and hopeful that Hernandez was totally different from the politicians which have traditionally excluded them.
“It might be an about-face [for Colombia], he could be a complete change,” del Carmen Roa advised Al Jazeera. “And that’s what Colombia wants proper now. It’s pressing. He’s the one that may get us out of this unhealthy place we’re in.”
If any candidate wins greater than half the votes on Sunday, they’ll turn out to be Colombia’s subsequent president, taking up from Ivan Duque, who defeated Petro in 2018 with the backing of Colombia’s political elite and has now turn out to be one of the vital unpopular leaders in many years.
If that fifty % threshold just isn’t met, the 2 high candidates will transfer on to the subsequent spherical of elections in late June.
Petro holds round 40 % assist, based on latest polls, whereas conservatives Gutierrez and Hernandez every have about 20 %, respectively.
Whereas Petro is predicted to win handily within the first spherical, if Petro and Hernandez go head-to-head in a second-round vote on June 19, polling means that it will likely be an in depth struggle.
Each candidates are chatting with grievances held by massive segments of the Colombian citizens, which have solely grown in recent times, stated Arlene Tickner, a political science professor at Bogota’s Universidad de Rosario.
“Hernandez truly expresses most of the discourses of the institution whereas on the identical time presenting himself as one thing totally different,” Tickner advised Al Jazeera. “And he’s clearly rather more conservative than Petro.”
As poverty and inequality worsened through the COVID-19 pandemic, Colombia has seen a surge in armed group violence within the countryside, one thing critics say is a product of failures by the federal government to implement the nation’s 2016 peace accords.
In the meantime, mass anti-government protests final yr made world headlines after they had been met by a violent backlash by Colombian safety forces.
In Might, an Invamer ballot discovered that just about 75 % of Colombians felt their nation was headed down the flawed path.
Threats of violence
That public frustration was first efficiently harnessed by Petro, who gained traction early on within the election season.
“Petro is totally different. He’s totally different from all the opposite political events. He proposes good concepts, makes good arguments,” Andres Torres, a 25-year-old graphic designer in Bogota, advised Al Jazeera.
“Colombia wants change,” stated Torres, including that he would assist anybody apart from Gutierrez, operating below the right-wing coalition Equipo por Colombia. “‘Fico’ simply represents this continuation of what we bought 4 years in the past with Duque.”
However analysts and electoral watchdogs even have expressed concern about electoral turmoil and violence.
Final week, Colombia’s Ombudsman’s Workplace, a human rights watchdog, despatched out an alert warning that just about 300 municipalities within the nation are at excessive or excessive threat of human rights violations and electoral violence.
The watchdog stated that just about half the nation faces some degree of threat.
The considerations come primarily from The Gulf Clan armed group, which held almost a 3rd of Colombia below siege earlier this month after their former chief was extradited to the USA on drug prices.
In the meantime, Petro and Francia Marquez, his vice-presidential candidate, have needed to converse to massive audiences behind police shields after alleged assassination plots and threats. “The spectre of demise accompanies us,” Petro advised the AFP information company in February.
Others like Elizabeth Dickinson, a senior Colombia analyst on the Worldwide Disaster Group, have raised alarm about Petro and different candidates stirring considerations of electoral fraud within the days main as much as the primary spherical.
In a presidential debate earlier than the vote, candidates spent almost a half-hour speaking about considerations about electoral fraud in March’s congressional elections, which Dickinson stated had been important and never adequately addressed by the federal government.
However she additionally stated that candidates have over-amplified the concerns as a political instrument.
“The entire candidates, no matter their political persuasions, are laying the groundwork to have the ability to declare fraud if the outcome just isn’t what they want,” Dickinson advised Al Jazeera. “That is actually harmful.”
A push for change
But when both Petro or Hernandez is elected, it could comply with a bigger development throughout Latin America of voters turning away from the figures and political events which have held energy for many years.
Final April, little-known rural faculty trainer Pedro Castillo shocked Peru by defeating institution candidate Keiko Fujimori. In November, Xiomara Castro, a socialist feminine candidate with institution ties, pulled off an astonishing victory in Honduras’ elections and ended the right-wing Nationwide Occasion’s 12-year grip on energy.
And in December, Chileans elected former scholar activist Gabriel Boric – who has promised to scale back endemic inequalities, and deal with gender, Indigenous and environmental points – because the nation’s youngest-ever president.
For voters like Hernandez supporter Ligia del Carmen Roa, who packed up a automobile of marketing campaign supplies simply down the road from Petro voter Torres, one factor is clear.
“We’ve been on this identical sample for over 70 years, and we wish to escape of it,” she stated.
“And proper now’s the second.”