On Sunday, May 29th, Colombians will elect their next President. Since the last presidential election in 2018, the left has been very successful, especially with the candidate Gustavo Petro.
Colombian youth follow, demanding a change and improvement in living conditions in the country. But the country is divided between the Enthusiasm for change and historical fear of the left.
In Colombia, governments have followed one another for decades with a right-wing or far-right majority, but things could change this year if Petro were to win.
If you ask Colombians about the upcoming elections, you will get very different answers. And that’s it the popularity of the left in the polls, the population does not leave indifferent.
Juan Toro, for example, is 33 years old, a company administrator and a bit confused: “I think there are too many people involved, like a new candidate comes out of nowhere, there are many opportunists, many people who want attention. And it ends up causing general attention to become distracted and confusing,” he says.
“Gustavo Petro has been running for the presidency for several years. I think people are tired of always following the same leaders and want a change, any change. So I think Gustavo Petro knew how to use this tool and insisted on his ideas,” he adds.
Supporters of Gustavo Petro at an act in Medellín this Friday. Photo: AP
“A Second Venezuela”
María Peláez Álvarez, 60, has already chosen her candidate and it will not be the one on the left: “So far I want the President of Colombia to be Sergio Fajardo. I’m from the Hope Center. We have to think very, very, very carefully about who we are going to elect as President,” he affirmed.
The situation in Venezuela scares him: “If we are not aware, as Colombians we can later become a second Venezuela.”
His neighbor Alicia Echeverri admits that she is not very sure about going to the polls because “you see a lot of robberies, a lot of promises that are not kept” and because she is also afraid of “living a complete Venezuela”. , when Petro becomes President.
“That’s why you become suspicious, very suspicious and don’t provoke a vote,” he emphasizes.
desire for change
For now, Petro remains the favorite in the polls in the first and second round of the presidential election. Supporting young people would be one of their strengths. In fact, they have been marching through the streets for months demanding change.
Last year Colombia lived to the rhythm of demonstrations and roadblocks. Unprecedented social dissatisfaction, the result of several reform projects by President Iván Duque’s government.
Among the protesters were many young people, boys who created their own resistance anthem inspired by the country’s national anthem and the music of the Star Wars movie.
An advertisement for Gustavo Petro in Soacha, Colombia. Photo: AP
Young musicians and a Medellín orchestra leader, Susana Boreal, were at the origin of this movement.
“First the national anthem of Colombia is done, but in a minor key, and also mixed in with the Imperial March from Star Wars. We compare the stormtroopers to the agents of the ESMAD (Mobile Anti-riot Squads) because it is this force that the state commands, it is the way they have to assert themselves through violence,” Susana elaborates.
More than 400 musicians performed this anthem, which was broadcast across the country and went viral on social networks. For Susana and her colleagues, it was about saying “no to repression in Colombia” and “yes to change”.
“We live in this country in a very complicated situation that is very difficult to live in. What is necessary? Simply to have guarantees, to be able to have and lead a dignified life under equal conditions and to put an end to it gap of social injustice that’s so far in our country. Because there are people who are very privileged, but they are very few,” denounces the young woman.
The 2021 protests hacked the government of Iván Duque in Colombia. Photo: AFP
So this year Susana will vote for the left, for the candidate Gustavo Petro: “If you listen to the presidential debates, the speeches of all the candidates, you realize that Gustavo Petro is the one who has the country in mind, I mean, he has really in my head,” he says.
“We know him from before, he was also a presidential candidate in 2018, he was mayor of Bogotá and because of the current state of the country we need something completely different than what has ruled us for 200 years. I believe that a lot in Gustavo Petro, I believe that he can be a very important person to start the transformation process of this country,” he adds.
Like Susana, thousands of young people would choose this candidate. In the last elections of 2018 – in which he won the ballot but lost to Iván Duque – they walked by his side at every meeting and mobilized in his favor on social networks. Today, political debates continue in all major cities.
At the headquarters of the Historic Pact Party, the teams have understood the importance of young people, and the left-wing political coalition is counting on their victory.
“We have three million new young voters in Colombia, but young people were also, like in Chile, the heart of a big social movement against a regime that governed badly, that destroyed the peace,” Parliament Speaker Roy Barreras told debates and representatives the party.
“I signed the peace agreement five years ago on behalf of the Colombian state and today we have a return to violence. But in addition (there were) some tax regulations that gave resources to the country’s mega-rich, and so “The economy will not be reactivated from peace. The young people have crushed this reform, and the young people are a great potential for the change that the pact will be,” he adds.
According to him, Petro will definitely not lose the presidential election this year: “We have only two options not to win: that they kill the candidate, which happened in Colombia, because here dark forces of drug trafficking and paramilitarism are killing Gustavo Petro or want to cheat us. It is the first time in 200 years that Colombia can have a democratic left-wing government accompanied by a centrist coalition, and I believe it will happen this time,” he enthuses.
Barreras is trying to allay fears to the left: “We want to instill that calm: the Historic Pact government will be a stable, balanced government, with a serious economy.”
But that doesn’t mean the game is won. Because the candidate’s past weighs heavily in the debates. Also former mayor of Bogotá He was a fighter in the M19 movement, a Colombian guerrilla who participated in the armed conflict of the 1970s.
weakened on the right
According to French professor and political scientist Yann Basset, who has been teaching political science in Colombia for more than 15 years, despite the criticism and his history, Petro is currently the favorite because the right is weakened.
“Historically, Colombia was not a right-wing country. There was a grand center coalition system, the National Front, in the 1950s and 1960s… A pact in which the two major parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, agreed to govern. The right emerged later, at the beginning of this century, as a sort of reaction to the protracted armed conflict. And it was hegemonic in the first decade of the 21st century and dominant in the decade that followed,” explains
“But after the management of Iván Duque, who is really very unpopular today, you get the impression that these rights are discredited. In 2018, I can try to win this time,” says Basset.
The other criticism that opponents regularly level is the risk of Colombia falling into a Venezuela-like crisis.
Yann Basset sees this as a political strategy to discredit the left: “It’s a campaign argument that has real basis. The Venezuelan system was a real disaster and causes a lot of fear,” he says.
“It is true that all left-wing currents in Colombia have maintained ties with Chavismo. Now, Chavismo is a phenomenon very specific to Venezuela and it is very difficult to replicate it in an absolutely identical way in another country. Petro is very different and, above all, the institutional context is really very different, he has very different and much more moderate proposals in the background, but it is true that he has a style that creates fear, that seems quite authoritarian, very personal, and that’s why he is compared to Chávez,” he argues.
The Colombians will make the final decision in the elections on May 29th. That high abstention the last elections will undoubtedly be crucial. Young people seem to be following the situation closely and involved in voting.