What is at stake in Sunday’s presidential elections in Colombia

Ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections in Colombia, we look at the leading presidential candidates, their backgrounds and their proposals to address the various issues in the country

May 28, 2022 by Tanya Wadhwa
Leading presidential candidates in Colombia’s presidential elections: Gustavo Petro, Federico Gutiérrez, Rodolfo Hernández and Sergio Fajardo Photo: El Tiempo

On Sunday, May 29, over 38 million Colombians will go to the polls to elect the country’s next president and vice-president for the next four years. A total of seven candidates are contesting in the presidential race. A candidate needs over 50% of the vote to win in the first round. If no candidate receives a majority, a second round will be held between the two leading candidates on June 19. The new president and vice-president will take office on August 7.

According to various opinion polls, the candidates who are leading the voting intention are Gustavo Petro of the left-wing Historic Pact coalition, Federico Gutiérrez of the right-wing Team for Colombia coalition, independent Rodolfo Hernández of the League of Anti-Corruption Governors movement and Sergio Fajardo of the centrist Hope Center coalition. The majority of opinion polls suggest that the second round between Petro and Gutiérrez is highly likely.

The recent polls by pollsters YanHaas, CNC, Guarumo and EcoAnalítica show that Petro is leading with between 35.8% to 40% of votes. Meanwhile, Gutiérrez follows him with between 20.8% and 30.8% of the votes. Hernández and Fajardo follow them with between 12% and 20.3%, and between 4% and 7%, respectively.

Who are the candidates and what are their proposals?

Who is Gustavo Petro? How does he plan to address the challenges facing Colombia?

61-year-old Petro, who is the favorite to win Colombia’s presidential election, is a renowned progressive leader and has served the country from various positions. In 2002, he was elected to the lower house. In 2006, he was reelected to the Senate. In 2011, he was elected as the mayor of the capital city Bogotá. In 2018, after closely losing the run-off election to outgoing President Ivan Duque, he returned to the Senate.

This is Petro’s third bid to become president. In 2010, he won the primary elections as the Alternative Democratic Pole candidate and finished fourth in the race. This time, he is in a better position than he was in 2018. He is running with 40-year-old Afro-descendant environmental activist and lawyer, Francia Márquez. Opinion polls have consistently placed Petro and Márquez well ahead of their right-wing opponents Gutiérrez and his vice-presidential candidate Rodrigo Lara.

For the first time in the country’s history, which has been traditionally ruled by the conservatives, the Colombian left has a real chance of taking power. The majority of opinion polls have suggested that Petro would beat any opponent he would face in the run-off and become the country’s first leftist president. If he wins, his victory will break the decades-long rule of conservatives and oligarchs in the country, and mark the end of neoliberalism and the dawn of a new era in Colombia.

Petro has proposed to replace the economy’s dependence on fossil fuels, mining and hydrocarbon extraction, with agriculture. For this purpose, he plans to introduce an agrarian reform, and seeks to increase the property tax on large estates of more than 500 hectares of fertile but unproductive lands.

Petro has promised to introduce a tax reform that eliminates exemptions for corporations and  increases taxes on people who possess large fortunes. He has also vowed to transform the concept of minimum wage for a real wage based on capital and income. He has also pledged to make reforms to the current private pension system to achieve a minimum pension.

Petro has committed to increase the current budgets for education, culture and sports. His other proposals include a universal public health system for prevention and primary care, electric transport, and free drinking water. He has also vowed to increase investment and security in rural areas, hit by armed conflicts. With regard to paramilitarism and the peace process, Petro has promised to work toward dismantling the illegal armed groups and has ensured to fully implement the 2016 peace agreements.

Who is Federico Gutiérrez? What are his presidential proposals?

47-year-old Federico Gutiérrez (Fico) is a civil engineer by training. He is not a nationally known political leader. He was a member of the Medellín city municipal council from 2004 to 2011. Later, he served as the city’s mayor from 2016 to 2019.

Gutiérrez has shown himself in opposition to Petro, for this reason, he has received wide support from the ruling far-right Democratic Center party’s founder and former president Alvaro Uribe and outgoing president Ivan Duque.

Fico has vowed to fight corruption, prosecute corrupt politicians and expropriate their assets to fund his anti-poverty measures. He has also promised to battle crime and strengthen security by launching a series of reforms to achieve better professionalization of public forces, and substitute illicit crops with a focus on agricultural development. He has assured to support the demobilized guerrillas, but has warned to fight the dissidents.

He has pledged to promote housing construction, invest in transportation and communications, and boost education and health services. At the same, he has committed to maintain a responsible fiscal environment with austerity in public spending and tax modernization to prevent tax evasion.

Conservative parties, which do not see Petro as the best option for Colombia and continue to link the left to the armed rebellion, have explicitly expressed themselves in support of him.

Who is Rodolfo Hernández? What are his proposals?

77-year-old Rodolfo Hernández is a businessman and civil engineer. He was the mayor of Bucaramanga city from 2016-2019. The independent and anti-establishment candidate Hernández has consistently placed among the top candidates in polls. The most recent ones show that he has been gaining ground. Some surveys, for example the one conducted by the CELAG, have placed him in second place after Petro.

His platform’s main focus is to fight corruption. He has pointed out that the state is robbed of 50 billion pesos (around 13 million USD) a year due to corruption. He has announced that if elected, he would issue a series of reforms to tackle corruption.

He has announced that he would reform one of the three branches of public power, and a constitutional change to the justice system. He has proposed to reduce state spending and bureaucracy by reducing the number of parliamentarians by half, finishing a dozen ministries, ending offices such as the office of the High Commissioner for Peace, and the Office for attention to the migrant population, and closing over three dozen embassies and consulates.

He has promised to work to end fracking, legalize medical marijuana, and support abortion rights. He has vowed to reestablish diplomatic relations with Venezuela, promote a negotiation process with guerrilla groups such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), comprehensively implement the Havana Peace Agreements and strengthen the image of the Armed Forces and Justice system. However, he has changed his position on a number of these subjects in different interviews on different platforms.

Who is Sergio Fajardo? What are his government plans?

65-year-old Fajardo is a mathematician. He served as Medellín’s mayor from 2004 to 2007. Later, he served as governor of the Antioquia department from 2012  to 2015. This is the second time Fajardo is running for presidency. In 2018, he missed the runoff by 2% of votes. In recent polls, Fajardo has seen his hold on third place slip and is now polling fourth.

His campaign focuses on education, food security and women. He has vowed to improve education standards, lower the cost of university tuition fees to increase enrollment and accessibility. He has promised to improve employment rates among youth and women. To achieve this, he has proposed to create an emergency employment program using national funding to create jobs in fields including social services, construction, etc. He aspires to create a women’s ministry. He has pledged to guarantee food security and have a productive model with environmental sustainability.

His other proposals include introducing measures to address social inequalities, combat inflation, guarantee pensions, fight corruption, and implement peace agreements.