Gustavo Petro, in his time as mayor of Bogotá, earned a reputation for not working as a team and not listening too much to those around him. However, the politician who has just won the left-wing primaries with a result that doubles the number of votes for the right-wing candidate, his main rival, will now have to show his more negotiating spirit and open to pacts for this time, to the third opportunity, to be the president of Colombia. The situation puts his spirit and his profile as a statesman to the test.
Petro, 61, does not hide his intention to win in the first round, for which he needs an absolute majority. He would automatically abort the second round. Never before has a left-wing candidate been in such a favorable position to govern the country in its modern history. “He is a very different Petro from 2018 ″, explains analyst León Valencia. “Those who compete with him —Federico Gutiérrez— do not offer an alternative, but continuity of Duque. And Petro represents change in a country eager for change”, he adds.
The arithmetic to reach that scenario is complex. The fragmentation of the vote in the first round, with the right on one side, the center on the other, and four other candidates more identified with conservatism than with progressivism, favor Petro. Nobody doubts that her name will appear on the ballots in the second round. The unknown is who will be her competitor then. The one who achieves it could bring together the entire anti-PT vote, which is not minor. Hence, his greatest chances are to settle the matter in the first round, on May 29.
“You will have to make a substantive agreement with the Liberal Party,” Valencia concedes. It is estimated that this classic formation of Colombian politics, controlled by former President César Gaviria, moves about two million votes. “It still wouldn’t be enough. It should also do so with the Centro Esperanza coalition —the center, where Sergio Fajardo has won—, although they are not in a position to agree. First, because there is a diversity of people there and, second, Fajardo is determined to go to the first round.”
Fajardo did not go to the second round four years ago, which was disputed by Petro and Duque. He won the second. Fajardo, former mayor of Medellín, a serene mathematician, avoided giving him his support, which paved the way for the victory of Álvaro Uribe’s dolphin. That is molten lead in the relationship between two politicians who often speak of a need for change. Petro believes that it is now or never, on some occasion he has said that if he does not succeed he will not try again.
His rivals have made a move before him. Óscar Iván Zuluaga, the candidate of Uribe’s party, already announced on Monday that he is withdrawing from the presidential battle and will support Fico. He has denied over and over again that he is the candidate of the former president, who has chosen all his successors since his departure, with the exception of Juan Manuel Santos in his second term. With this public support, Fico will find it more difficult to get rid of the role of Duque’s successor, which is priced down given the low popularity of the current president.
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The right will assimilate Petro with Castrochavism because in the past he proposed to expropriate large estates to leave them in the hands of peasants. Before he was hesitant to answer these questions, but now he defends himself without hesitation. In his day he belonged to the M-19, an urban guerrilla that created enthusiasm among left-wing circles and later joined a peace process that turned it into a political party. Anyway, he was never a man of arms, his work had more to do with the social. He led the occupation of land with hundreds of families who founded a neighborhood, Bolívar 83, in Zipaquirá, the city near Bogotá where he grew up.
The agreements that he will have to reach will bring him other problems. The coalition forces the second in the primaries to be the presidential formula of the candidate. In this case, Francia Márquez, an environmentalist who received 785,000 votes, only behind Petro and Fico. A spectacular result. She represents feminism, a movement about which Petro has shown little sensitivity at times, and the visibility of the country’s minorities. The BBC included her in a list of the 100 most inspiring women in the world.
The alliance with Gaviria could displace Márquez. “There may be a split in the left pact if Petro does not satisfy some of his allies. It wouldn’t be a good thing, they should stick together,” says Laura Wills, a political scientist at the Universidad de los Andes. In that case, Márquez could be attracted by Fajardo’s speech, that some issues may be more progressive than Petro’s.
To win in the first round, he will have to make an effort to attract more majorities. “Petro has to moderate himself, negotiate with other parties that did not necessarily support him. He can’t keep himself closed in some of his postures. Him so he could come to understand himself with others, ”Wills continues.
Petro faces two and a half transcendental months for his destiny. In Congress he forged his reputation as a courageous politician in the face of parapolitics. In the Senate he raised his voice against corruption. He now has a time ahead of him to show if he is someone of consensus and majorities to govern a country like Colombia, his longing.
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