Populist businessman Rodolfo Hernández secured a strong second place in Colombia’s presidential election on Sunday, successfully winning a second round next month against former left-wing guerrilla Gustavo Peter.
With the most results, Hernández, an outspoken populist compared to former US President Donald Trump, won about 28 percent of the vote, defeating more established center-right candidate Federico Gutiérrez, who was third with 24 percent.
Petro won by more than 40 percent of the vote, but given that a majority of Gutiérrez supporters are likely to support Hernández in the second round, the leftist leader lost his job to win the presidency. He won about 8.5 million votes while Hernández and Gutiérrez had almost 11 million votes.
“This is really the hardest scenario imaginable for Petra, and I don’t think his campaign team will be very happy,” said Sandra Botero, a political analyst at the University of Rosario in Bogota. “It will be a tough fight for him in the second round.”
The results were supposed to boost financial markets on Monday. Economists predicted that if Hernández enters the second round, the pesos and Colombian the assets would strengthen in anticipation of his final victory in the second round.
For most of the campaign, Petro and Gutiérrez conducted opinion polls, but Hernández, a 77-year-old honest-speaking millionaire who funded his campaign, jumped in the final election before the vote. It seems that some voters on the right turned to him at the last minute as the best chance to keep Peter from power.
“To those who voted for me, I tell you now, I will not let you down,” Hernández said in a video message recorded shortly after the results were released.
There were jubilant scenes in his hometown of Bucaramanga, where he was mayor for four turbulent years from 2016-2019, but was known as an uncompromising fighter against corruption. When he left office, he had a rating of 84 percent.
Thousands of his supporters took to the streets, waving “Rodolfo” flags and shouting his name.
Hernandez’s years, wealth and tirades against traditional politicians led him to call him “Colombian Trump”. Others have compared him to the Italian Silvio Berlusconi, perhaps in relation to his constant sunbathing and carefully cut comb.
When he launched his campaign last year, few gave him a chance, and it was only in March that he had about 10 percent of the vote. Hernández has no political party and leads an impromptu movement called the League of Governors Against Corruption. He had very few public appearances during the campaign, instead using social media extensively.
His simple message about ending corruption by cutting state budgets resonated in a country where many voters see tackling corruption as a top priority. He promised monetary rewards to citizens who report corrupt civil servants.
He had a turbulent term as mayor. In 2018, he was suspended for slapping a city councilor, and the following year he was banned again for violating Colombian campaign rules while in public office.
Despite his anti-corruption rhetoric, Hernández himself faces corruption charges. He is accused of improperly awarding a contract to recycle garbage in Bucaramanga. He denies the allegations, but the case should be on trial in July, just two weeks before Colombia’s next president takes office.
Peter’s result confirms that he has solid support throughout the country, especially among the young and the poor. But it also suggests he has an upper limit of about 40 percent struggling to break through, as indicated in the last election in 2018, when he was second behind right-wing incumbent President Ivan Duque.
“Everyone knows that Petro is in an alliance [Marxist guerrilla groups] Farc and ELN and the country cannot forget how these bandits have intimidated us for years, ”said Jorge Garzón, a 34-year-old voted for Gutiérrez on Sunday. That’s what Gustavo Petro is all about and we can’t let him win. “