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Colombian elections 2022: Petro or Fico? 

With two main candidates on opposing sides of the political spectrum, what do Colombians want?



Colombia’s presidential elections are just around the corner (with a second round in June if no candidate obtains more than 50 per cent of the vote). Jorge Luis Rodríguez, a graduate from Bogota’s Los Andes university, takes a closer look at the two main candidates and what’s at stake for Colombians.

Colombia’s presidential elections will take place this May 29. What we can see from the results of the March 2022 congressional elections, which essentially functioned as presidential primaries between candidates from similar areas of the political spectrum, is that Colombians want to see political change in their country. The current president Iván Duque’s approval ratings have fallen from close to 55 per cent in 2018 after he took office to around 20 per cent today, and according to polls, a whopping 85 per cent think the country is moving in the wrong direction. 

Voters are troubled by the economic crisis, with over 12 per cent still finding themselves out of work due to the pandemic, and many feeling the effects of a surge in crime and violence – especially as armed groups have reformed in rural areas due to numerous failures to implement the peace agreement. Notably, this month, the ‘Clan del Golfo’ cartel instigated a ‘paro armado’ or armed strike, shutting down 119 municipalities in the north of the country, and forcing thousands of people in Antioquia, Cordoba, Sucre, and Bolivar to remain inside their homes for four days.

The past few years have been peppered with persistent and often violent protests, sparked by Duque’s tax reform efforts and fuelled by fatal crackdowns from police, military and the national anti-riot force, ESMAD.

Another divisive issue is the continuing rise in migration – from Venezuela and from areas of Colombia where violence has once again taken hold. Of course, political actors will scapegoat Venezuelan refugees and use their image to spread effective campaigns of fear. 

In the upcoming presidential elections on 29 May 2022, two candidates stand out. As often happens, they represent  opposing worldviews: liberal versus conservative, left and right, red and blue; Petro and Fico. 

Petro or Fico?

Running to become Colombia’s first left-wing president is 62-year-old senator and former mayor of Bogota (2012-15), Gustavo Petro. 

In the congressional elections back in March (where three Colombian political parties—on the left, centre, and right—held primaries to choose one presidential candidate for each group, as well as new members of both houses of Congress), Petro decisively won within the left-wing primary, by the highest margin of any candidate from any party, with 80.5 percent of the vote and 4.5 million ballots. 

He campaigns to renew and revive the flailing 2016 Peace Agreement, replace fossil fuel profits with those from alternative sectors, and redistribute wealth. Research suggests his commitment to the peace deal could help his campaign – despite the fact that his policies to end fracking and oil exploration and raise taxes on the richest – as well as his past membership of the M-19 guerrilla group – divides voters.

Dignidad Francia Marquez Vice Presidenta Petro

Petro’s secret weapon

Petro’s campaign has attracted further notoriety, since he named Francia Marquez, an Afro-Colombian woman from Cauca, as his vice-presidential candidate. Marquez participated in the Havana peace talks during Santos’ presidency and has dedicated her life to social and environmental struggles in parts of the country where the presence of the Colombian state is weak. 

‘Yo me identiFICO’

Petro’s counterpart is the right-wing Federico Gutiérrez, or ‘Fico’, who was mayor of his native Medellin from 2016 to 2020. A self-professed ‘man of the people’, Fico focuses on four main ‘pillars’: security; economic growth; anti-corruption and inequality. His campaign and political approach is characterized by ‘exposing’ the dangers of a leftist government and the possibility of a future similar to that of Venezuela, the consequences of which are palpable in Colombian society. His vice presidential candidate is the centrist Rodrigo Lara Sánchez, a doctor and politician from Huila, where he served as mayor of Neiva to wide acclaim. Fico is said to be supported by the deeply divisive former president Álvaro Uribe, who was a sworn opponent of the peace talks. 

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Who else stands a chance?

Aside from polar Petro and Fico, there are centrist candidates who, although their ranking in the polls remains low, do have a place within the political landscape: Sergio Fajardo and Rodolfo Hernandez. 

Rodolfo Hernandez

A 77-year-old engineer from Santander, Hernandez embodies the image of the political businessman. Mayor of Bucaramanga from 2016 to 2019, his term was highly praised. His main focus is attacking corruption and promoting ‘desarrollo’ (development). Hernandez’ outspoken statements and actions are often controversial and violent. His anti-corruption focus is also attributed to the fact that his father was kidnapped by the FARC and his daughter was kidnapped and killed by the ELN.

Sergio Fajardo

A mathematician, academic and now politician, Fajardo was mayor of Medellin from 2004-2007, governor of Antioquia from 2012-2015 and ran in the 2018 presidential elections. His political stance highlights the importance of education and the search for social values, without scaring away the private sector. Although in the previous elections he won an important percentage of votes, in the current elections his voter projections are no higher than 10 per cent at best. Fajardo is criticized for a political stance that makes few compromises and takes no risks. 

Ingrid Betancourt

Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by the FARC during her 2002 presidential campaign and remained hostage for over 10 years, ran as the only female candidate in 2022 until Sunday 22 May, when she resigned from the presidential race. Her name will still appear on ballots, but her votes will automatically transfer to Hernandez. Her campaign sought a new way of doing politics, breaking away from traditional, systematically corrupt institutions. 

She tweeted on Sunday: ‘I’m joining @ingrodolfohdez’s presidential campaign! I’ve made this decision to offer Colombians a different option, one which could defeat corruption and [political] machinery.’ Rodolfo currently sits in third place in the polls.

How will Colombians vote?

The polls clearly show Petro as the favourite to win, but will Colombians’ fears of becoming ‘the next Venezuela’, or Petro’s volatile public statements hold voters back?

Gustavo Petro leads in the polls. AS/COA.

This article was updated on 22 May 2022 to reflect Ingrid Betancourt’s decision to pull out of the presidential race, offering her votes to Rodolfo Hernandez’s campaign.