Colombia: a presidential election under threat |  A week before the elections, the alerts redouble

Colombia: a presidential election under threat | A week before the elections, the alerts redouble

From Bogotá

Saturday ended in worry Colombia. Gustavo Petro denounced the existence of a plan to give “a blow to the elections of May 29”. The candidate of Historical pact, leading in all the polls, said that “they plan to suspend the elections, to suspend the bodies that regulate the electoral process”. His words were spoken in a massive act from a stage in the northern town of Barranquilla on the Caribbean Sea.

France Marquez, candidate for the vice-presidency of the Pact, was protected that same night by a bulletproof security device and was rushed off the stage after being pointed in the face by a laser in an act of threat. Her act took place in the city of Bogotá for the day of Afro-Colombianity, a sector from which France originated, a black woman, environmentalist and feminist, victim of an attack in 2019, which gained great popularity in a country which has just had three consecutive years of major mobilizations.

The two events put the Colombian election alert situation in the red. Iván Cepeda, senator and member of the Historical Pact, clarified on Sunday morning what Petro was referring to: “there is an undeniable campaign to seek to suspend in the last week before the elections the clerk who is neither more nor less than the civil servant on whom the whole electoral system depends (…) it is obvious that if three or four days before the elections the civil servant responsible for counting the votes is suspended, this traumatizes the whole electoral system.

The possibility of registrar Alexander Vega being removed is one of many alerts under an election fraught with threats. Proof of this is the protection with which Petro must carry out each of his acts, or the report of the Ombudsman’s Office which indicates that of the 1,123 municipalities in Colombia, at least 521, or 47.3%, are exposed to violations of the human rights. during the election period, 84 of whom are at extreme risk.

The threats seem proportional to the chances of Petro winning the election. The candidate of the historic Pact – which brings together progressive, left and liberal parties, organizations and leaders – is leading the polls. They follow Federico “Fico” Gutierrez of the coalition Colombia teamand, thirdly, Rodolfo Hernandezof the League of Anti-Corruption Leaderswho has achieved growth in recent weeks to the point of competing for the eventual second place with Gutiérrez in a possible election.

According to pollster Guarumo, Petro has 37.9% of voting intentions, Gutiérrez 30.8% and Hernández 20.3%. Invamer, on the other hand, shows the first with 40.6%, the second with 27.1% and the third with 20.9%. Finally, the Latin American Strategic Center for Geopolitics puts Petro with 48% in a valid vote projection, Hernández second with 21.8% and Gutiérrez with 21.4%. Petro leads overall, but doesn’t get more than the 50% needed to get the first-round victory.

A second round is then probable and, there too, Petro appears as a favorite in the polls, in particular against Gutiérrez, former mayor of Medellín, a leading Uribista candidate who denies being one. There are several links between Gutiérrez and former President Álvaro Uribe and his Democratic Center party, as demonstrated, for example, when the Center candidate declined his candidacy in his favour. However, the more than 70% negative image of current president Iván Duque, as well as that of Uribe, means public support in the first round would weigh on Gutiérrez.

The candidate of Equipo por Colombia, accused of links with the criminal organization Oficina de Envigado during his term as mayor, holds a speech characteristic of the Latin American right, as he expressed during the event which took place is held in Neiva on Friday: “what is at stake is that it is the future of the country, we cannot jump into the void as Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua have done recently or Peru and Chile. We must avoid these populist projects.

Uribismo’s need to hide behind Gutiérrez demonstrates the crisis of the dominant force in Colombian politics over the past 20 years and the demand for change that exists. This situation has allowed Hernández to find a space with an underdog profile, an anti-corruption discourse, even if he is accused of corruption in a corruption case. The question of corruption occupies a very important place in Colombia: according to the National Consulting Center it is the greatest concern of citizens, with 23%, followed by unemployment with 18%, poverty and hunger with 13% and urban insecurity with 8%.

Hernández, dubbed “little old, but tasty” on his social networks, offers to “get out of polarization”, and challenges part of a common electoral base with Gutiérrez, from the center-right, right, disenchanted uribismo. His rise in turn corresponds with the collapse of the candidate who ran as a centrist, Sergio Fajardo, which led to the conclusion that the former mayor of Bucaramanga succeeded in attracting a significant part of these voters. Another candidate for the center, Ingrid Betancourt, finally gave her support to Gutiérrez in recent days.

Although it is then an open scenario for May 29, there is, given the polls and the support in action, a probability that Petro will win the election. It would mean a progressive president in a country emerging from 50 years of armed violence that took various forms, but never ended, and is now characterized by the systematic assassination of social and human rights leaders. and massacres. “There is a hopeless corruption regime,” Petro said in Barranquilla, raising the possibility of him being elected.

The government, for its part, denies that the reported plans are true. Interior Minister Daniel Palacios wrote that “claims that speak of the postponement or suspension of elections are absolutely false. We ask candidates and teams not to generate misinformation. The Attorney General, Margarita Cabello Blanco, said for her part that “the dates of the elections in Colombia are established by the Constitution and the law, therefore, they are not subject to change”.

The last week before the first round promises to be tense. The country comes from Pop 2021, the question of the elections has permeated daily life, it is debated in many places at the crossroads between the need for change, the campaign of fear against Petro and the threats in a country accustomed to counting the dead, the killers at pledges or armed strikes as euphemisms for the territorial control of armed/paramilitary groups. What would happen in the event of reports of vote theft or maneuvers in the last hours before, during or after the contest calling into question the result? Many agree that responses could be triggered on the streets.

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