Colombia reaches the 1st round of the election with the favorite leftist for the 1st time

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With apprehension, expectation and suspense, 38 million Colombians eligible to go to the polls this Sunday (29) will decide who will be the country’s next president. For now, the left, which has never ruled Colombia, has a wide advantage, with former guerrilla, former mayor and senator Gustavo Petro with 40.6% of voting intentions, according to an Invamer poll.

Second place is moderate rightist Federico Gutiérrez, who has 27.1%, but has been losing strength since he accepted the support of the current government, the unpopular Iván Duque, and the tougher right wing.

The populist Rodolfo Hernández, with 20.9%, has a strong growth in recent surveys, who has a right-wing anti-corruption platform and preaches a more present state in the economy. The candidate’s rise changed the predictability suggested by polls in recent months. The chance of a second round, to be held on June 19, remains, but it is unknown who Petro would face.

The strength of the leftist, who in 2018 lost in the second round to Duque, is bolstered by the anti-government demonstrations held between 2019 and 2021. The protests began over a tax reform proposal, but soon gained broader agendas, such as the country’s historic inequality , unemployment, which affects 12% of the population, and the loss of informal jobs during the Covid pandemic.

The brutal repression of the acts by the Colombian police, linked to the Army, gave strength to the opposition, which also sees in the choice of Petro’s vice candidate, the black lawyer and environmentalist Francia Márquez, a defender of gender and diversity policies, an active to attract young people to the acts of the ticket.

Among the proposals of the leader in the surveys are a reform to eliminate taxes on products from the basic basket and tax large fortunes. A defender of the agreement with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), Petro wants to speed up the implementation of a point that has made little progress, agrarian reform, in addition to resuming negotiations with the ELN (National Liberation Army), interrupted by Duque. He also promised to lower unemployment rates with more vacancies on the state’s payroll.

Part of the criticism he receives comes from the market, which fears changes in the country’s economy, based on fiscal discipline, friendly to foreign investment and whose main export is oil. There is a fear that Petro will determine protectionist policies in the area of ​​foreign trade.

Fico Gutiérrez, in turn, wants to remove the image of a candidate from continuity and adopt the line of moderate liberalism, in the mold of Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou. He wants to reduce social spending and increase investments in infrastructure, as he did when he was mayor of Medellín. Despite being an opponent of Sergio Fajardo, responsible for the urban changes that made the city a model, Fico Gutiérrez became known for the creation of parks, viaducts and social areas that reduced crime in the capital of the Department of Antioquia.

Fico has also been pushing for proposals for education, promising jobs to young people who are studying and grants. In Medellín, he was recognized as the mayor who invested the most in this area.

Voting is not mandatory in Colombia, but a higher turnout is expected this year, driven by youth. “Since the 2021 protests, we see that they are more involved in politics and with a very strong desire for change. Therefore, it is expected that this sector of the population, previously not so committed, will go to the polls”, says Silvia Otero Bahamón, professor at the University of Rosario, in Bogotá.

For the researcher, the main themes of this election are different from the previous election, in 2018, which took place just two years after the agreement with the FARC. “At that time, peace with the guerrillas was the most important issue. Now, no, people are worried about taxes, jobs and a model of state that protects them more”, says Bahamón. “These issues have worsened with the pandemic. Meanwhile, the stigma that the left had, of being associated with the armed struggle, has been diluted a lot, although there is still a stronghold of rejection of Petro, due to its association with Chavismo.”

The impacts of the pandemic can be felt in the capital. In the center, shops are closed, there are many homeless people and restaurants in upscale areas have changed ownership or put their properties for rent. The improvement in Covid figures in recent months, however, gave Bogotá a new lease of life.

On Thursday night (26), the bars in the Zona G region, famous for its nightlife, and those in Parque La 93, were packed. Few wear masks, inside and outside the places, an item that is no longer mandatory.

The pandemic has so far left nearly 140,000 victims in the country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At least 84% of Colombians took one dose of the Covid vaccine, 71% two, and 24% a booster dose, according to a monitoring tool by the New York Times.

Even with more than 70% disapproval, President Iván Duque was evaluated positively on two points. One of them was the fight against the coronavirus. The other, the reception of Venezuelan refugees.

Today they are officially 1.8 million, but human rights NGOs estimate that number has already reached 2.5 million. The Temporary Protection Statute for Venezuelan Migrants, which gave access to documentation and work permits to those who had just left the neighboring country’s Chavista dictatorship, received praise from institutions such as Human Rights Watch.

Although most of them live in departments closer to the border and coast, more than 500,000 are in the capital, Bogotá. Typical food restaurants and Venezuelan shop workers have become commonplace, bringing a mixture of accents to the Colombian capital.

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