Bogota. A week before the presidential elections in Colombia, the final phase of the election campaign is tense. This Sunday, candidates ended their speeches in public squares, trying to hunt down the undecided in an increasingly polarized environment.
Death threats that are bringing back assassination ghosts in the country, distrust in the electoral system and renewed violence in remote areas are heating up sentiment on the eve of next Sunday’s elections.
Opposition Senator Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla fighter and former mayor of Bogotá, is leading the polls (41%), though not with enough support to avoid a June 19 vote. If she wins, it would be the first time the left has seized power in a country historically ruled by conservative and liberal elites.
In a possible second round, the polls predict a duel between Petro and right-wing Federico Gutiérrez, former mayor of Medellín, with about 27% of voting intentions. Very close to him is the independent businessman Rodolfo Hernández, 77 years old and not part of the political spectrum.
Franco-Colombian candidate Ingrid Betancourt, a former hostage of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), joined Hernández’s campaign on Friday.
Petro (62 years old), very active and eloquent in the public square, ended his election campaign this Sunday in central Bogotá, next to the mayoral office he held between 2012 and 2015. His running mate, Afro-environmentalist Francia Márquez, joined him on stage.
His speech was the 100th since August and an opportunity to reaffirm a promise of “change” without revenge “for all Colombians” to curb “political hatred in society,” according to the candidate’s team.
For his part, Gutiérrez held a meeting in Medellín (Northwest), his birthplace and the second largest city in the country. After calling out against “the communists” who want to “seize” and “end” the institutions, the leader of the right-wing coalition team for Colombia called for unity amid polarization and the fight against “insecurity.”
shadow of deceit
The election campaign was marked by threats against the main candidates. Petro had to strengthen his security system and now speaks in public wearing a bulletproof vest and protected by a fence of armored shields. On Saturday night, a green laser was aimed at Francia Márquez while he was making a speech in Bogotá, activating his bodyguards and forcing the rally’s cancellation. The public prosecutor is investigating the incident.
Gutiérrez also denounced intimidation, which in a country where five presidential candidates were assassinated in the 20th century adds to a climate rarefied by violence, raising fears of assassination.
Another controversy is gaining strength in the final stretch of the election campaign, fueled by distrust in the electoral process, which had a run-down performance in the March 13 general election. So the final tally yielded almost 400,000 votes for the Left, which were not included in the pre-tally released on election day.
The Petro-led coalition won three additional seats in parliament to reach 45 and become the strongest force alongside the Liberals.
After several statements about the computer program that will be used this time to count the ballots, there are rumors of a possible suspension or resignation of the head of the National Civil Registry – in charge of organizing the elections – or even a postponement of extremities of the examination.
On Saturday night, Petro launched a “warning” and stated during a speech in Barranquilla (North) that “they are trying to get the popular vote”. “They plan to suspend the elections, they plan to suspend the bodies that regulate the electoral process in Colombia,” he said vehemently. The left called an “emergency” meeting with other candidates on Monday to discuss the issue.
Interior Minister Daniel Palacios tweeted: “Claims that the elections will be postponed or suspended are absolutely false. We ask candidates and teams not to generate misinformation,” he wrote.
Claims that the elections will be postponed or suspended are absolutely false. We ask candidates and teams not to generate misinformation.
Transparent elections begin with candidates taking responsibility not to spread false information
– Daniel Palacios (@DanielPalam) May 22, 2022
Along the same lines, registrar Alexander Vega said on Sunday he could guarantee “legitimate and transparent” presidential elections. He denounced that the attacks on his institution corresponded to “a narrative of fraud (…) unfair and wrong”.
But suspicions about the electoral system “have been hanging in the air for a few days. It is possible that Petro is trying to avoid the coup by making it public,” comments a diplomatic source, clarifying: “Postponing the elections in a country as legalistic and clinging to democracy as Colombia is (…) but practically unthinkable there is a lot of tension,” he warns.