(CNN Spanish) — The election year in Latin America progresses amid polarized political climates and economic uncertainty. After the elections in Costa Rica, and before Brazil’s turn comes, Colombia will hold on May 29 one of the most important presidential elections in recent decades in the country, which could also have an effect throughout Latin America, while it continues the “armed strike” launched by the Clan del Golfo last week in retaliation for the extradition of alias “Otoniel”.
There are eight candidates for president in this first round, and, if none obtains a simple majority of the votes —as the polls would indicate—, there will be a second round between the two most voted on June 19 to decide the successor to the current president, Iván Duke. The winner will take possession on August 7.
A consultation carried out in April by the Latin American Strategic Center for Geopolitics (Celag) highlights that four candidates are concentrating the voting intentions of the Colombian electorate: Gustavo Petro (42.6%), Federico Gutiérrez (21.8%), Rodolfo Hernández ( 11.5%) and Sergio Fajardo (9.5%), from the center. Celag includes in its advisory council figures from the Latin American left such as the former president of Ecuador Rafael Correa and the former vice president of Bolivia Álvaro García Linera.
The survey was carried out by a team from Celag itself with 3,064 interviews with a questionnaire applied through the use of mobile devices, between April 1 and 18, 2022, with a margin of error that ranges between 0.9% and 2.19 %, with a 95% confidence interval.
More accurate data comes from a more recent survey by Guarumo and EcoAnalítica for the newspaper Time, which highlights the same four candidates, although with different percentages (Petro 36.4%, Gutiérrez 30.6%, Rodolfo Hernández 12.4%, Sergio Fajardo 6.9%). In a possible second round, the investigation anticipates 43.8% for Petro and 40.9% for Gutiérrez, with 8.8% of blank votes. This survey included 2,132 interviews between April 25 and 29, with a margin of error of 2.5% and a confidence interval of 95%, according to the data sheet provided by the newspaper.
Why are these elections important for Latin America?
This has been and will be an important electoral year for Latin America: Costa Rica has already elected a president, elections are approaching in Colombia and in October it will be Brazil’s turn.
The previous year Argentina held legislative elections and Chile elected a new president: in both countries the ruling parties suffered defeats, and in the case of Chile, as in Costa Rica, there was a change in the Executive Power.
These electoral processes are being characterized by the polarization between the right and the left, at the expense of the center, and by a poor performance of the ruling parties, badly hit by the covid-19 pandemic and economic tensions regardless of their political color.
“In most of the countries of the region, in Peru, Chile and Brazil, since before the first round, the polls have led to two radical options,” Andrés Macías Tolosa, a researcher at the Externado de Colombia University, told CNN. .
“In Colombia I think the options are less radical than in Chile, but they are very opposite: they have led to what is discussed before the first round being what is discussed between the first and second, and polarization affects democracy “.
In Chile, Gabriel Boric, the left-wing candidate, won in December, replacing right-wing President Sebastián Piñera. While in Costa Rica, Rodigo Chaves, a conservative, triumphed and replaced President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, from the center.
The race in Colombia seems to be shaping up, according to the polls, between Petro —from the left— and Gutiérrez —from the right—, while in Brazil the contest is expected to face the current right-wing president, Jair Bolsonaro, with former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a symbol for the Latin American left.
“Colombia is in this wave of consolidation of a left or center-left in power, and that is new in the country,” said Macías Tolosa.
This eventual consolidation could, according to the Colombian researcher, relax Colombia’s relationship with Venezuela, after Petro was in favor of reestablishing diplomatic relations between Bogotá and Caracas if he wins the elections, as well as re-evaluating the historical link with the United States. , especially in the fight against armed groups such as the FARC —today demobilized in the framework of a Peace Agreement— and the ELN and dissident sectors of the FARC.
“If Petro wins, there will be a very strong and complex debate about this militaristic vision of confronting armed groups and illicit crops. I do not think that the relationship with the United States will be damaged even if this happens, since there are many elements at stake that Petro does not could change from one day to the next, but it is possible that there may be variations,” said the researcher.
Petro has recently defended a program of substitution of coca crops in the context of an alliance between the state and the peasantry, and has defended peace processes with armed groupsalthough his government program does not make references to the relationship with the United States.
What is at stake for Colombians?
The lack of jobs and the salary situation is the main economic concern of Colombians, followed by inflation, which reached 9.23% year-on-year in April, according to the Bank of the Republic, a figure not seen since 2000. —, family debt, pensions and the lack of private investment, according to CELAG.
“Unlike other elections, inflation has become much more relevant. Colombia has been affected by the remnants of the pandemic and the supply crisis, worsened by the war in Ukraine. The peso has been greatly devalued and we have had a much higher dollar. high,” said Macías Tolosa.
Among the structural problems in Colombia, those surveyed consider —according to CELAG— that corruption is the most serious, followed by poverty, crime, the political class and drug trafficking.
A report by the Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP) also highlights that security is not among the main problems perceived by Colombians, despite the recent “armed strike”: it is in seventh place, below health, education and employee. “This finding is surprising since security occupies much of the media and political discourse, and has guided, to a large extent, part of the State’s actions,” wrote María Acosta Vélez and Jerónimo Castillo, from the IFJ. This foundation says that it is financed with the contribution of Colombian and foreign companies that operate in the country, as well as donations from governments and international cooperation agencies, and with funds from philanthropic institutions.
“Colombia is currently facing an increase in the homicide rate and this government has not addressed this in a responsible manner. Perhaps the candidates have something to say about it, although those comments have not appeared in public debates or in their proposals,” they said. .
“As is often the case, this campaign is driven by fear and the security proposals reflect that.”
There are 39 million people called to choose between the eight forces that appear on the electoral card, and in March Colombians had already voted in the legislative elections and the popular consultations.
Gustavo Petro was one of the winners of that day by winning the referendum of his coalition with 4.4 million votes and becoming the candidate of the left. In addition, the strength of the Historical Pact performed well in the legislative elections and positioned itself as one of the main forces.
Federico “Fico” Gutiérrez, another of the main candidates for president, also had a good performance that day: he prevailed in his party’s consultation with 2.1 million votes, achieving the representation of the right in Colombia and adding the support of the traditional parties.
The Democratic Center, the ruling party of President Iván Duque, and the candidate Sergio Fajardo, from the center, were, on the other hand, among the losers of the March 13 election day.
With information from Melissa Velásquez Loaiza.