Rodolfo Hernández Defies Polls, Will Face Gustavo Petro in a Runoff in Colombia

Colombia is heading to a presidential runoff next month between the leftist former guerrilla Gustavo Petro and anti-establishment outsider Rodolfo Hernández

Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernández.
By Matthew Bristow and Andrea Jaramillo
May 29, 2022 | 06:19 PM

Bloomberg — Colombia is heading to a presidential runoff next month between the leftist former guerrilla Gustavo Petro and anti-establishment outsider Rodolfo Hernández who defied polls to defeat a conservative candidate backed by traditional parties.

Petro received 40% of the votes Sunday against 28% for Hernández, according to the electoral authorities. Federico Gutiérrez, who was second in polls for months but saw his campaign stall in the final stretch, got 24%.

While Petro has been mayor of Bogota, senator and run for president several times before, Hernandez has less of a public track record and has been vague about what policies he would pursue if he wins. Polls showed Hernandez more competitive against Petro in a runoff, since voters who supported Gutiérrez are now likely to transfer most of their votes to Hernandez.

PUBLICIDAD

The markets are likely to react positively when they reopen on Tuesday after a public holiday, since today’s result seems to cut the chance of a Petro victory, which was their main fear, said Andres Pardo, chief Latin America macro strategist at XP Investments in New York.

“But the truth is that with Rodolfo Hernandez, there’s a huge question mark,” Pardo said.

Hernández, 77, made a fortune building homes for low-income families and was mayor of the northeastern city of Bucaramanga. He’s been compared to former US President Donald Trump for his brash and unpredictable style.

TikTok Videos

His campaign team built a successful social media strategy driven by TikTok videos espousing his simple message that Colombia is being bled white by corrupt politicians who should be in jail. He’s yet to say who would lead his economic team or provided specifics on key issues.

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Petro, 62, wants to tax wealthy landowners, halt the awarding of oil exploration licenses and restore ties with the socialist government of Venezuela. He was a member of an illegal guerrilla group in his late teens and twenties before getting into politics.

The uncertainty over who will win the runoff driven by a lack of clarity on Hernandez’s policies and concerns that Petro could seek radical changes to the left, are sure to keep investors on edge ahead of the June 19 vote. The new president will take office on Aug. 7.

Unemployment and Corruption

Colombian voters made clear their demand for change in the election by rejecting candidates supported by more traditional parties. While Colombia’s economy has rebounded strongly, the pandemic aggravated deep inequalities in the South American country and voters are upset about issues including inflation, unemployment and corruption.

The next president will inherit an economy that is set to grow 5.8% this year, the fastest among major economies in the Americas, according to forecasts from the International Monetary Fund.

At the same time, inflation is running at a 21-year-high of 9.2%, led by a spike in food and energy costs which is particularly hitting poorer families.