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Colombia's First Round Presidential Elections - Not Enough for Change

Updated: Jul 22, 2022

By Bárbara Orozco Díaz

On Sunday, May 29, 2022, the first round of the Presidential Elections was held in Colombia. The left-leaning candidate, Gustavo Petro of the Pacto Histórico, received the most votes (40.32 per cent - 8,527,768) but it was not enough for the progressive coalition to claim a decisive victory in this first round and become the first left-leaning government in the contemporary history of Colombia. Petro will face the second most voted candidate, Rodolfo Hernandez of La Liga de Gobernantes Anticorrupción (28.15 per cent - 5,953,209) in a runoff election to be held on June 19, 2022.

The Results

From left to right, presidential candidates Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernandez

According to the last population census, Colombia has a population of 48,258,494 people. The National Registrar's Office determined that 39,002,239 Colombians were eligible to vote in this year’s presidential elections, 80.8 per cent of the country's population, of which 972,754 live abroad.

Voting in Colombia is voluntary and on May 29, 21,418,631 voters went to the polls, representing 54.91 per cent of the electorate, although this is a fairly high participation rate for Colombian standards , the abstention rate remained high at roughly 45.09 per cent.

It is noteworthy the increase of Colombians who went to the polls to exercise their right to vote compared to the last Congressional Elections held on March 13; at that time, with 38,819,901 eligible voters, only around 18,034,781 of them casted a vote. In other words, 3,383,840 more Colombians went out to cast their vote in Sunday's election.

As in the results of the Congressional Elections held last March 13, the right-wing and far-right parties were defeated. Their main representative, Federico Gutierrez of Equipo Colombia, only reached 23.91 per cent of the votes (5,058,010) and came in a meager third place. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rodolfo Hernandez, who casts himself as a political outsider, got more votes with his anti-corruption electoral campaign.

The two candidates who will compete in the runoff election, Gustavo Petro and Rodolfo Hernandez, represent 68.47 per cent of the votes and reflect a Colombia that is leaning to the left (40.32 per cent of the electorate) and longs to achieve a change for a better life, in peace and without corruption.

Democracy and Human Rights

Protests over assassinations of leaders 2020

These are the second elections to be held in Colombia after the signing of the Peace Accord in 2016. Five years after the Peace Accord, Latin America's “oldest democracy” has seen the armed conflict worsen, with armed groups fighting for territorial control and a new configuration of armed groups. 1,327 leaders have been assassinated since 2016. A total of 231 massacres have been committed since 2020, and forced displacement has increased 181 per cent in 2021. Over 100,000 people remain confined to their territories since last year, with constant threats and harassment of communities. The State's response is to hyper militarize the country, with equipment, training, and weapons financed by the United States, in violation of the 2016 Havana Peace Accords.

In addition, Colombian society took to the streets in 2019 and 2021 in massive social protests against the government's neoliberal tax reforms. The repression by US-backed Colombian security forces was absolutely brutal. A total of 7,620 aggressions were registered, including: 89 murders, 1,929 people injured, 106 complaints for gender violence (23 of them for sexual violence), 343 aggressions to human rights defenders, 3,546 arbitrary and illegal detentions of protesters, 1,636 complaints for abuse of power and police violence (446 by ESMAD, 523 by the National Police, 66 by the National Army, 601 not yet identified).

In the 2022 elections, many leftist candidates for Congress and the Presidency have been threatened by right-wing death squads, but also some communal leaders in the countryside who support the Pacto Histórico were declared military targets. To this we must add, the lack of information in rural areas and the obstacles for people who have been forcibly displaced by armed groups to access their local voting station.

Will a left turn be possible on June 19?

Security Measures during the Campaign of the candidate for the Presidency of the Pacto Histórico

There are three weeks left before the runoff, in the political and democratic electoral game, the right-wing parties, in a vote against the left and its presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, are already beginning to place their support behind Rodolfo Hernandez. The shift to the left will depend on the votes that can be obtained from the Centrist Parties as well as mobilizing new segments of the electorate.

Three weeks in which progressive candidates will remain under threat, as well as many social and community leaders who vocally support the Pacto Histórico. Meanwhile, the communities will continue to resist under the anxiety of a worsening armed conflict, which so far in 2022 has claimed the lives of more than 79 social leaders, led to 44 massacres, more than 24,000 people forcibly displaced, at least 55,000 people confined and constant threats and harassment without any meaningful response from the central government other than to militarization of their territories.


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