Hernández is well poised to inherit the entirety of the anti-Petro vote that broke heavily for Federico Gutiérrez
Colombia’s first round of its presidential election produced surprising results, with leftist populist Gustavo Petro now set to face former Mayor Rodolfo Hernández in a runoff, who surged in the polls just days before the vote. By displacing center-right Federico Gutiérrez as the expected runoff opponent against Petro, Hernández’s outsider candidacy substantially raises the likelihood of Petro ultimately losing the presidency.
Hernández lacks a deep and practical policy platform, and he would likely encounter notable challenges in coalition building as president. However, clients should expect a generally more favorable business environment under Hernández than under Petro. Nonetheless, a Petro victory remains highly realistic in this volatile political environment, and clients should continue to plan for this political scenario, which includes heightened FX instability and a disruptive Petro reform agenda.
On Sunday May 29, Colombians went to the polls for the first round of this year’s presidential election. While Gustavo Petro garnered the plurality of support on Sunday, he underperformed by winning just 40.3% of the vote despite recent polling having him receiving over 45%. In total, 52% of Sunday’s vote went to Hernández and the anti-Petro candidate Federico Gutiérrez, giving Hernández a comfortable lead coming out of the first round and the edge in a runoff against Petro. Following Sunday’s vote, Gutiérrez publicly endorsed Hernández.
Rodolfo Hernández evades definition under traditional political categories of right or left, and has instead created his own, non-ideological populist lane in the election, seizing the anti-corruption issue as a central theme.
By passing to the second round, Hernández changes the dynamics of the election, which previously favored Petro. Unlike a Petro-Gutiérrez runoff, a Petro-Hernández runoff does not boil down to a choice between change and continuity, but rather one between two kinds of change, with Hernández offering populist, but not radical, policy prescriptions that align more closely with the median voter than Petro’s more radical and leftist agenda. Hernández also benefits from his outsider credentials and ability to tap into the anti-corruption and anti-political establishment zeitgeist of the current political moment.
However, a Hernández victory is not assured. Due to his last-minute surge, Hernández has, until now, benefited from a lack of deep and critical scrutiny into him and his past. He even canceled all debate appearances in the runup to Sunday’s vote to protect his momentum. In addition to the challenges of heightened scrutiny, it also remains to be seen whether Hernández will be able to fully absorb the Gutiérrez vote while maintaining his anti-establishment posture. Nonetheless, with the current gap in support, we now view a Hernández victory as being a more likely outcome for the 2022 election.
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