Elections in Colombia: Between Hope and Concern

Pablo Ruiz

On Sunday 19 June, all eyes will once again be on Colombia and the results of the second round of the presidential elections: will it be more of the same in Colombia – one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders – or will there be a change, depending on whether the candidate of the left or the right wins; everything remains to be seen.

As we know, last May 29th, in the first round of the presidential elections, the candidates of the Historical Pact, Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez, obtained the highest number of votes with 8,527,768 votes (40.32%). The second majority, headed by businessman Rodolfo Hernández and Marelen Castillo, received 5,953,209 votes (28.15 %).

For Sol Angela Hoyos Pérez of the Mesa Ecuménica por la Paz, this election “may become the hope for Latin America”. “Although the first round was apparently calm, and the media have not reported any irregularities, there is a possibility of fraud”.

It is worth noting that 21,146,287 people voted in this first round, representing 54.91% of Colombians eligible to vote. However, the vote could have been much higher considering that there are regions where people were unable to exercise their right to vote due to threats and the control exercised by paramilitary groups, a situation which “favours the alliances of the right and ultra-right”. “It is a very difficult and worrying time, and even more so if we don’t have anyone to carry out real oversight, with transparency and firmness, as the threats weigh heavily”, Sol Angela points out.

She also warns, with concern, that the candidate Rodolfo Hernández has said that if he becomes president of Colombia, he will decree a “state of commotion”, a state of emergency, “because he wants to govern with all the powers”, which represents a danger.

For Alejandro García of Pax Christi International, the Colombian people now have an option for change in these presidential elections.

“More than two decades of very strong violence – he says – with authoritarian governments, with a strong violation of human rights, reminiscent of the time of the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez” and which have been expressed “with a strong policy of “democratic security”, of repression, of an increase in the violation of human rights, with very disastrous elements, in our history, such as the issue of false positives” but also with “the investment of foreign companies (that come) to appropriate peasant territories, agrarian zones, moorlands, and with large-scale mining projects, oil projects, monocultures, and all of this, with economic policies that have generated greater economic and social inequality”. All of the above has been the prelude to the catharsis, the social revolt of 2019, the National Strike, which took place in Colombia as an expression of social discontent.

The results of 29 May in Colombia, where Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez had the highest votes, show that “the Colombian people are voting for a change and that change is needed” as “it is necessary to ensure that the Peace Accords are complied with in our country, so that the violence ends and we move into a democratic era where we can resolve differences through democratic exercises”, Alejandro tells us.

In the first round, the Uribista candidate Federico Gutiérrez was expected to compete with Gustavo Petro in the run-off. Surprisingly, he came in third place. The second majority was achieved by Rodolfo Hernández, baptised as the “Colombian Trump” for being a businessman, millionaire, populist, and who has said that women should support from home and that he is a follower of Adolf Hitler.

“The engineer Rodolfo Hernández has the mayoralty of Bucaramanga and has become a character, a charismatic character, with a boom in social networks, but who does not participate in debates and whose proposals sometimes leave much to be desired. He rejects corruption but there are investigations by the public prosecutor’s office, precisely, with acts of corruption” in which he is involved.

Alejandro García, expresses his concern about the complaints that have been made about the counting of the votes by the registry office. He recalls the complaints that were made for the congressional elections, which reported close to 500,000 votes that were not properly registered and which would have favoured the Historical Pact. The National Electoral Council has not contracted an international audit to review the software used to count the votes, despite this being a demand to ensure that there is not and will not be any electoral fraud.

For Martha Inés Romero, Regional Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean of Pax Christi International, the results of the first round showed that the traditional political parties still have a strong base at the level of collegiate body elections, but not at the presidential level. “So, really, there was a defeat for the traditional parties”.

“Rodolfo Hernández had almost six million voters because, as Alejandro said, his discourse is very superficial but very much of the gut. He appeals to the fight against corruption even though, by the way, he already has a case. He is accused before the public prosecutor’s office and there is more than 50 pieces of evidence of corruption that he favoured a power group and his own son when he was mayor,” says Martha Inés,

Why did so many votes go to Hérnandez? “People have a very strong distrust, a lack of trust, towards politicians in general. Corruption is synonymous with politicians, which is why he has captured the masses who do not have a solid civic formation. According to Martha Inés Romero’s analysis, although Gustavo Petro was the winner of the first round, they are showing that it was Rodolfo Hernández who won, which would imply that the other traditional parties supported his candidacy. The sum of the votes of the third candidate, for example, could be added to Hernández, although this is not an automatic fact, “it does generate an important risk for the Historic Pact campaign”.

The blank vote is not an option

If Gustavo Petro wins, it will not be easy, but there is hope in Colombia that these elections will open a path towards the changes that are needed. “If several elections ago – Martha Inés tells us – in which young men and women did not vote, this time they did believe in the capacity of the vote to bring about change. Now there are many young people who are going to vote for the candidate of the Historical Pact. We have the FORCE of faith. In this second round, “the blank vote is not an option although it was being promoted. At this stage, it seems that the best thing to do is to promote the effective vote”.

“Colombia deserves an implementation of the Peace Accords, Colombia deserves a different option, one that shows possibilities for the incorporation of those who have been historically excluded, and we have hope that there will be a real change”, concludes Martha Inés Romero.

At the time of writing, INDEPAZ was still recording murders of human rights defenders in Colombia and Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective has stated that “We are extremely concerned about the security and integrity of leaders in Buenos Aires, Norte del Cauca, who continue to receive death threats in the context of the presidential elections from the Aguilas Negras and other armed groups”.