Too soon and at the same time too far away. Although Gustavo Petro, the inexhaustible leftist leader at the head of the historic pact, was the clear winner in the first round of Sunday’s presidential election with 40% of the vote, his path to the Nariño Council is unclear. His surprise contender in the last example, freelancer Rodolfo Hernandez, a populist and unclassifiable construction entrepreneur with 28% of the vote, marks the start of a new campaign in the remaining 20 days for the second round. Recent opinion polls known before Sunday’s result indicated some very convergent second-round scenarios between Petro and Hernandez, for a technical tie. In the coming weeks, there will be a reshaping of the political landscape, as potential adhesions and support will determine the course.
The result of the first round was a major blow to the traditional parties, which must now decide how to support one of the final candidates, who have been fierce critics of political elites in the past. Petro and Hernandez both represent radical visionaries for change, according to an election analysis by Columbia Risk Analytics. The former mayor of Bogotá embodies a change in the social and economic system, while the mayor of Bucaramanga represents a challenge to the political class. Both will have to explain why their version of change is better for the country if they are to garner support that will allow them to tip the scales.
The two options were far from the great political structures owned by Federico Gutierrez, the right-wing coalition candidate who came in third with 24% of the vote. Fico, as everyone knows him, joined the Conservative Party, La U and even the ruling Liberal Party, as well as the “machines” of the Char family in the Caribbean, and had the support of former presidents Cesar Gaviria, Andrés Pastrana and Alvaro Uribe, among others. After persistently attacking Petro as a danger to democracy, it took no more than a few hours for Gutierrez to express his unequivocal support for Rodolfo Hernandez in the same speech in which he conceded his defeat, although it is not clear that all sides supported he-she.
In the complete electoral devastation, some reactions revealed the resistance that Petro continues to provoke in various sectors. It was launched by former Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverri, one of the first architects of the coalition supporting Gutierrez, a moderate, center-right figure, against the former mayor of Bogotá. He wrote on social media “A better architect than guerrilla warfare” to attack Petro’s past in M-19, a movement that laid down its arms over 30 years ago and played a leading role in the Constituent Assembly that drafted 1991. A political discourse, and in the face of the controversy its message stirred up, he returned Echevery to the attack: “I didn’t want to hurt feelings. There is no doubt: a sober engineer is better than a drunk senator,” he wrote afterwards, unconvincingly referring to an incident in which Petro climbed onto a platform with signs of having some drinks.
In total numbers, Pietro had 8.5 million votes while Hernandez came close to six million. If the engineer, as he likes to be called, could add Gutierrez’s engineer, it would rise to 11 million, an inaccurate calculation repeated by many observers. An April 21 study by the National Consulting Center that attempted to gauge these vote-drain scenarios indicated that in the second round between Petro and Hernandez, 60% of Gutierrez’s votes would go to “the Engineer” and only 8% to “Petro”. While 53% of those from centrist Sergio Fajardo go with Hernandez and 18% with Pietro. Those calculations would leave the former mayor of Bucaramanga with just under 9.5 million votes and Petro with more than nine votes. However, that study had in mind the roughly one-third of those who had not yet decided this would be definitive.
“Petro has won an important victory, but is now at a disadvantage,” says Sergio Guzman, of Columbia Risk Analytics. He made his campaign a contrast between change and continuity as he clearly represented change. “He now has three weeks to turn the narrative on its head and attempt to portray Rodolfo Hernandez as a far-right Nazi sympathizer and supporter of former President Alvaro Uribe. “It is unlikely that he will succeed in this endeavor,” he says. Partly, since Petro was so critical of the centrists who refused to keep up with his campaign, he would now have a harder time seducing them.
Given such short distances, Fajardo’s support is desirable, despite the fact that on Sunday he received less than 5% of the favourite, without even reaching a million votes. The former governor of Antioquia has avoided singing with his voice for now, but in the past he had approaches with Hernandez that did not come to fruition. Although they have quite opposite personalities, Fajardo emphasized that they are united by an identity around the fight against corruption.
“I don’t know how valuable my voice is at this point. I’ve spoken with Rodolfo in the past, we know each other. He called me last night and said he wanted to talk to me. From Petro’s side, nobody. But we have to go down quietly and wisely,” Fajardo said this Monday. The Center for Hope coalition that supported his candidacy said it “achieved the political purposes for which it was founded,” releasing its members for a second round.Other prominent central figures, such as former Health Minister Alejandro Gaviria, have already winked at Petro’s nomination and are expected to land in the historic pact.
Subscribe here To the newsletter EL PAÍS about Colombia and receive all the informative keys to current affairs in the country.