© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Banner with Colombian center-right presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez pictured the day before the second round of presidential elections in Lebria, Colombia, June 18, 2022. REUTERS / Santiago Arcos
Nelson Bocanegra, Oliver Griffin and Carlos Vargas
BOGOTA / BUCARAMANGA (Reuters) – Leftist Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla movement who promised profound social and economic change, won the Colombian presidency on Sunday, the first progressive to do so in the country’s history.
Petro defeated construction magnate Rodolfo Hernandez by an unexpectedly large margin of more than 700,000 votes, analysts said, a demonstration of Colombians’ desire for efforts to fight deep inequality.
Petro, the former mayor of the capital Bogota and the current senator, has vowed to fight inequality with free university education, pension reforms and high taxes on unproductive land. He won 50.5% and Hernandez 47.3%.
Peter’s proposals – especially a ban on new oil projects – have stunned some investors, although he has vowed to honor existing agreements.
His victory is likely to cause nervousness in the market until his cabinet is announced, analysts told Reuters on Sunday.
“As of today, Colombia is changing; Colombia is different,” Petro told fan fans at the Bogota Concert Arena. “The change is precisely to leave sectarianism behind.”
“It is not a time for hatred, this government, which will start on August 7, is the government of life,” he said.
Alejandro Forero, 40, who uses a wheelchair, cried when the results arrived.
“Finally, thank God. I know he will be a good president and will help those of us who are least privileged. This will change for the better,” said Forero, who is unemployed.
Thousands of people took to the streets of Bogota to celebrate, some dancing near the largest polling station in the intermittent rain.
This campaign was Peter’s third presidential candidacy and his victory adds the Andean nation to the list of Latin American countries that have elected progressives in recent years.
Image: Leftist Petro wins Colombian presidency – https://graphics.reuters.com/COLOMBIA-ELECTION/dwpkrmabovm/chart.png
Peter’s victory showed that people in Colombia – where almost half of the population lives in some form of poverty – are eager to fight inequality, said Daniela Cuellar of FTI Consulting (NYSE :).
“What the Colombian population has shown today is that they are looking for a government focused on key social issues,” she said. “Colombia’s long-standing inequality, exacerbated by COVID-19, has contributed to the electorate seeking change.”
But the fragmented congress, in which a dozen parties have seats, will serve as a test of Peter’s proposals.
“Colombia’s institutional strength and the rule of law seem strong enough that the country can maintain economic stability,” Cuellar said. Moreover, the campaign is not ruling, Peter’s policy will be more moderate.
“Even if he tries to bring about radical reforms, he does not have the support of Congress to implement them,” she added.
Petro, 62, said he was tortured by the military when he was detained for involvement in guerrillas, and because of his potential victory, senior armed forces officials were preparing for change.
Peter’s vice president, Francia Marquez, a single mother and former housewife, will be the country’s first Afro-Colombian female vice president.
“Today I am voting for my daughter – she turned 15 two weeks ago and asked for only one gift: to vote for Petra,” said security officer Pedro Vargas, 48, in southwest Bogota on Sunday morning.
“I hope this man will fulfill my daughter’s hopes, she has a lot of confidence in his promises,” added Vargas, who said he does not usually vote.
Petro also vowed to fully implement the 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels and seek talks with still active ELN guerrillas.
Analysts say the proposed halt to oil development could send investment elsewhere at a time when Colombia is struggling with a low credit rating, a large trade deficit and sovereign debt that has doubled to 72 percent of GDP in the past decade.
Oil accounts for almost half of exports and close to 10% of national income, but Petro argues that new projects should be banned for environmental reasons and that Colombia should move away from dependence on industry.
Petro also promised to increase taxes and fees for the mining industries and charge large landowners for unproductive land, raising about $ 5.2 billion. He also proposes raising up to $ 3.9 billion through progressive taxation of companies.
“We think that on Tuesday, interest rates on TES bonds and the exchange rate will depreciate, but we need to see what kind of rhetoric Petro will give us, what kind of cabinet he will give us,” said Sergio Olarte, chief economist for Colombia at Scotiabank.
Monday is a holiday in Colombia.
“The magnitude of the upcoming trading sessions will depend on the economic line offered by the new president,” agreed David Cubides, chief economist at Allianz brokerage house (ETR :), who said he expects local market volatility next week.
Incumbent President Ivan Duque announced on Twitter that he had called to congratulate Petra, and they scheduled a meeting in the coming days to ensure a harmonious transition.
Colombian presidents are limited to one term.
About 22.6 million people voted, about 1.2 million more than in the first round. About 2.3% of voters went to the polls, not supporting any candidate.