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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Populist outsider shakes up Colombia’s presidential election

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A populist outsider is shaking up Colombia’s presidential election within the last days of campaigning, opening up what had largely been a two-horse race between radical leftwing senator Gustavo Petro and Federico Gutiérrez of the centre-right.

Rodolfo Hernández, a 77-year-old businessman and anti-corruption crusader, has shot up in opinion polls and threatens to pip Gutiérrez to second place in subsequent Sunday’s vote. If he does, he’s more likely to face Petro in a run-off in June — and polls recommend it could be a detailed battle.

“The Colombian people and I are the only ones who can beat Petro in the second round,” Hernández wrote on Twitter this week after three polls urged he was gaining momentum and shutting on Gutiérrez. “I will be your president.”

Hernández’s rise has added a risky new aspect to a marketing campaign that has till now been dominated by Petro.

“It would overturn the table completely,” stated Yann Basset, a political scientist at Bogotá’s Rosario University. “Having been critical of politicians from the right, Hernández would suddenly become the right’s candidate. Petro would have to alter his discourse too, and present himself as the candidate of stability in contrast to the unpredictable Hernández.”

Hernández’s age, wealth and tirades in opposition to conventional politicians have led some to dub him “Colombia’s Trump”. Others, maybe in reference to his everlasting suntan and thoroughly coiffured comb-over, evaluate him to Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi.

“He’s part of a recent trend of businessmen-turned-politicians in Latin America,” stated Basset, who compares him to Ricardo Martinelli in Panama, Sebastián Piñera in Chile and Mauricio Macri in Argentina — self-made millionaires who grew to become presidents of their respective nations.

When Hernández launched his marketing campaign final 12 months, few gave him an opportunity. He has no political occasion and leads a makeshift motion referred to as the League of Anti-Corruption Governors. He has financed his marketing campaign himself, with wealth amassed on the helm of his development firm, and made in depth use of social media, incomes himself the nickname “the old guy on TikTok”.

Hernández’s easy message of ending corruption by slashing state budgets has resonated in a rustic the place many citizens see tackling graft as a prime precedence. He has pledged to finish the usage of presidential planes and helicopters and to dump embassies to pay official money owed.

An outsider to nationwide politics, Hernández has held workplace at native degree. He was mayor of his house metropolis of Bucaramanga in north-eastern Colombia from 2016 to 2019, though it was a stormy tenure.

In 2018 he was suspended for punching a metropolis councillor. The following 12 months he was barred once more, this time for breaking Colombia’s guidelines on campaigning whereas in public workplace by supporting a candidate who hoped to succeed him. Hernández resigned, three months earlier than his time period was resulting from finish.

Despite his anti-corruption rhetoric, he faces graft allegations himself, relationship from his time as mayor. He is accused of improperly awarding a contract for the recycling of garbage in Bucaramanga. He denies the fees however the case is because of go to trial in July, simply two weeks earlier than Colombia’s subsequent president takes workplace.

Straight-talking and typically abrasive, Hernández is susceptible to gaffes.

In an interview in 2016 he described himself as “a follower of a great German thinker, Adolf Hitler”, solely to right himself later and say he confused Hitler with Albert Einstein. As mayor, he angered Bucaramanga’s firefighters by lambasting them as “fat and lazy”.

As lately as March, he was polling at 10 per cent, however one survey now places him on 19 per cent in opposition to Gutiérrez’s 21, with Petro properly forward on 36 per cent. Another urged Hernández had overtaken Gutiérrez.

The newest polling for a possible run-off confirmed that, whereas Petro would comfortably beat Gutiérrez in a two-way contest, he would have a more durable time overcoming Hernández. One ballot urged Petro and Hernández would tie in an eventual second spherical.

On Friday, Hernández acquired one other enhance, albeit minor, when Ingrid Betancourt, essentially the most celebrated kidnap sufferer of Colombia’s lengthy civil battle, withdrew her bid for the presidency and backed him. Like Hernández, she had been campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket.

While Betancourt’s help is unlikely to win Hernández many adherents — she was polling at below 1 per cent — it might assist win over feminine voters. She additionally has worldwide recognition, one thing he lacks.

Like Betancourt, who in 2002 was kidnapped by Marxist guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) and held in captivity for greater than six years, Hernández has been deeply touched by Colombia’s battle.

His father was kidnapped by the Farc and held for greater than 4 months and in 2004 his daughter was kidnapped by one other Marxist rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN). Hernández stated he refused to pay a $2mn ransom and the group “forcibly disappeared” her. He believes she is useless however her physique has by no means been discovered.

Basset stated the maverick former mayor is “difficult to place” on a left-right spectrum. He is an entrepreneur who advocates some protectionism; he pushes a conservative law-and-order agenda however needs to re-establish consular and commerce relations with Nicolás Maduro’s socialist regime in Venezuela; He voted in opposition to the peace settlement with the Farc in a plebiscite in 2016 however stated he would implement that settlement in full.

Having clawed himself into rivalry, some analysts say Hernández might decide up extra votes within the last week, principally from rightwingers who’re determined to cease Petro and concern Gutiérrez has run out of steam.

“Hernández would be a strong second-round contender,” Citibank famous. “The current momentum is in his favour and right-leaning voters could flock to him as the only anti-Petro vote left.”

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