Bucaramanga, Colombia – Tens of millions of Colombian voters are poised to take a step into the unknown subsequent week, as they make investments their hopes in a controversial determine who they consider will assist the nation reinvent itself politically.
Rodolfo Hernandez shocked a lot of Colombia by producing a shock, second-place consequence within the first spherical of the nation’s presidential elections in late Could, garnering 28 % of the vote.
That secured his place within the upcoming June 19 runoff towards left-wing, former armed group member Gustavo Petro.
“Hernandez was not seen as a viable contender till three weeks earlier than the primary spherical,” Sergio Guzman, a political analyst and director of the Colombia Danger Evaluation consultancy group, informed Al Jazeera.
The 77-year-old building tycoon isn’t a typical presidential candidate in Colombia, the place for the previous few many years politics have been largely centred on Uribismo, a model of conservatism ushered in by former President Alvaro Uribe, who nonetheless holds important political sway.
Hernandez is conscious of his variations and brandishes them with pleasure. He’s brash, controversial, and foul-mouthed, and has constructed his presidential marketing campaign round his place as a political outsider and straight-shooting “common Joe”.
That’s what appeals to a big section of Colombia’s voters, specifically low-income and fewer educated voters, defined Guzman. “He represents a frustration with your complete system,” Guzman stated.
“A variety of low-income and uneducated Colombians, which make up the majority of the voting inhabitants, resonate with that. They’re not very into particulars, they don’t care about fancy programmes or fancy universities, they care about an previous man that may get s**t accomplished, and that’s the picture that Hernandez has tried to promote fairly successfully.”
Hernandez, the previous mayor of the mid-sized metropolis of Bucaramanga, about 400km (250 miles) north of the capital Bogota, has distanced himself from the standard political circles and has run an unorthodox marketing campaign upheld by populist rhetoric and an ambiguous political programme.
The septuagenarian held few political rallies and as an alternative campaigned predominantly by way of his rigorously crafted social media channels. He has dubbed himself the “King of Tik Tok”, a platform on which he has amassed greater than 500,000 followers.
Regardless of being initially seen as a right-wing candidate, he has clarified his presidential programme and expressed his help for liberal insurance policies comparable to marriage equality, widespread drug legalisation, abortion rights, and opposition to fracking.
He has additionally expressed help for a 2016 peace settlement between the Colombian authorities and the now-demobilised Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) insurgent group, in addition to his willingness to barter with armed teams nonetheless energetic within the nation.
“[Hernandez] is a piece in progress, he’s in fixed evolution,” Angel Beccassino, the candidate’s chief political adviser, informed Al Jazeera. “Rodolfo’s program isn’t particular on a number of subjects.”
Beccassino categorised Hernandez as a candidate of “a brand new model of centrism” and described him as “a person of knowledge relatively than information”.
The candidate has refused to take part in any of the presidential debates all through the marketing campaign, nonetheless, leaving many questions as to what sort of president he will likely be, ought to he win Sunday’s vote.
On June 9, Hernandez additionally cancelled his remaining public appearances over alleged fears for his life and remained in Miami for a variety of days.
Frustration with established order
The vote comes because the Colombian voters is aching for political change after the nation noticed monumental, nationwide protests final yr demanding an finish to structural inequalities and police violence. Outgoing conservative President Ivan Duque has since seen his reputation plummet, reaching a 73 % disapproval ranking earlier this yr.
“Colombians don’t desire a profession politician proper now,” stated Will Freeman, a PhD candidate at Princeton College in the US and an professional on politics and anti-corruption in Latin America.
And each Hernandez and Petro are “options to the political established order”, Freeman stated.
“The explanations that persons are voting for Hernandez, regardless of his gaffes, are the identical causes that persons are voting for Petro,” he informed Al Jazeera. “In each instances, persons are saying, ‘Issues are very dangerous proper now, we can’t afford one other few years of continuity so we have now to gamble on one thing completely different although that comes with loads of uncertainty.’”
Amid the shortage of readability in Hernandez’s presidential plans, one promise has remained fixed: his willpower to unravel the nation’s endemic corruption. He has usually pointed the finger at Colombia’s political elite and labelled them “robbers, thieves, scoundrels [and] delinquents”.
“He provides me confidence as a result of he desires to battle corruption,” Alma Osorio Aguirre, a Hernandez supporter from Bucaramanga and volunteer on his marketing campaign, informed Al Jazeera.
“He’s a self-made man who has come from the underside, like many people. He’s outspoken, confrontational, and says issues as they’re.”
A number of controversies
Nonetheless, Hernandez is the topic of an energetic investigation and has been charged with corruption over alleged irregularities within the distribution of rubbish assortment contracts to an organization linked to his son.
Hernandez and his marketing campaign have denied the costs. “It’s an investigation that has sure weaknesses,” Beccassino stated, with out going into additional element. A trial is scheduled for mid-July.
“The Engineer”, as Hernandez can also be identified amongst his supporters resulting from his coaching as a civil engineer, is not any stranger to controversy.
He has come below hearth for making sexist remarks and xenophobic feedback towards Venezuelan migrant ladies, for labelling a neighborhood hearth division “fats and lazy”, and for expressing his admiration for “the nice German thinker Adolf Hitler”. He later corrected himself on the latter level and stated he meant to say Albert Einstein.
Earlier on within the marketing campaign, he stated he didn’t know what the Colombian area of Vichada was, solely to go on to win there weeks later. And in an interview with The Washington Put up, he in contrast his supporters to the “brainwashed” 9/11 hijackers.
In 2018, he was suspended as Bucaramanga’s mayor for slapping a councilman within the face on video. “His persona is that of an autocrat, of a bit of emperor,” John Claro, the town councillor he slapped, informed Al Jazeera in an interview this month.
“[He’s] a simplistic, erratic, demagogic, misogynist candidate with a shallow programme. He will get simply carried away by his feelings and extra so once you inform him the reality, as I did,” Claro stated.
In accordance with the Inspector Normal’s Workplace, Hernandez is at the moment going through 33 open investigations for alleged actions, together with defamation and office harassment.
‘We wish a metamorphosis’
Others have questioned whether or not Hernandez will be capable of ship on his presidential marketing campaign guarantees. Whereas campaigning for mayor of Bucaramanga, he distributed letters vowing to construct new housing for low-income residents, a promise he by no means fulfilled.
“I’m outraged by the deceit of his letter,” resident Jaime Nunez Duarte, who stored the letter touting Hernandez’s “20,000 Glad Houses” programme, informed Al Jazeera. “I believed the letter however greater than something I believed Hernandez. It was a technique to acquire votes. An ideal type of deception.”
But Hernandez’s monitor report and the string of controversies haven’t deterred a lot of the voters, spurred on by their want for a clear break from the political system, from backing him.
“Life is basically dangerous in Colombia for most individuals proper now and it’s gotten a lot worse within the final two years. So, do they care that he has some gaffes? I’m certain that’s not on the highest of anybody’s thoughts,” Freeman stated.
Polls are predicting a really shut battle between Hernandez and Petro in subsequent Sunday’s runoff, with each units of supporters pissed off by the identical points however divided over who’s greatest suited to unravel them.
There may be additionally a reticence amongst sectors of the voters in Colombia – a rustic that has by no means been ruled by a left-wing authorities and stays scarred by many years of armed battle involving radical, left-wing armed teams – to belief Petro, as many consider his political agenda is simply too radical and fear about his previous as a fighter.
“We wish a metamorphosis, we not need extra of the identical,” Fernando Plata, a neighborhood Bucaramanga resident, informed Al Jazeera. “We wish change, we wish to see an engineer as president, not a guerrilla.”