Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez win in Colombia. However, the nation's most powerful conservatives are working to undermine efforts to elect the country's first left-leaning president.

gustavo petro daughter sofia petro
[Newly elected Colombian President Gustavo Petro and his daughter Sofia Petro]

On Sunday, the dreams of millions of Colombians who have been fighting for the creation of a society that is more democratic, safer, greener, and socially just came true. Senator Gustavo Petro, together with his Afro-Colombian vice-presidential nominee, the environmental specialist Francia Márquez, was chosen as the 42nd President of Colombia. Together, they got about 50.44 percent of the votes cast, which is equal to 11,281,013 total votes. His predecessor Iván Duque as well as his opponent Rodolfo Hernández have both expressed their congratulations to him publicly on his election triumph.

On June 19, 2022, there was a run-off election, and around 22,445,873 individuals exercised their right to vote in it. This was approximately 3.7 percent greater than the turnout in the first round of voting three weeks earlier. Only in 1998 did we see a greater participation rate. It is not always simple for people to get to the polls in Colombia: in certain sections of the nation, hundreds of people have once again driven many hours, or even days, to reach one of the voting sites. In other parts of the country, it is relatively easy for people to go to the polls. In several areas, the inability to vote was also caused by excessive rains. In addition, there are always limitations owing to the use of threats, violence, and money to purchase votes, particularly in more isolated rural regions.

Gustavo Petro, the leader of the government of the nation with the fifth-largest economy in Latin America, will not be a member of either the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party. This will be the first time in the history of the country that this will occur. Petro ensures that left-wing groups and parties in Latin America will continue their winning streak, which will offer more momentum for the elections that will take place in Brazil in October 2022.

In light of the historical context surrounding Colombia, the outcome will be determined by the actions of the election losers. On the previous Sunday, Gustavo Petro not only defeated his direct challenger, the misogynist and anti-immigrant 77-year-old self-made millionaire and populist Rodolfo Hernández, but he also relegated him to second place. Rodolfo Hernández clearly received 47.31 percent, which is 10,580,412 votes less encouragement than the polls had predicted for him.

However, a substantially larger number of individuals than in the last election came to the conclusion that they wanted to vote for neither of the two candidates: approximately half a million voters, or more than 2 percent, cast a voto blanco. A characteristic of the Colombian electoral system that enables voters to express their disagreement with the candidates while also demonstrating that they are using their democratic right (as opposed to abstaining from voting).

Due to the one-of-a-kind nature of this victory, President Petro should now reach out to his detractors, remind the losers of the political responsibility they have, and encourage the opposition to engage in productive labour. It is now unknown whether or not the individuals that came in last place will be able to successfully transition into their new positions.

The Colombian military, which has always had a prominent position in the country, continues to be an important participant in this stage of the democratic transition. It is anticipated that the leadership of the military will very soon send out signals that will leave no room for question about Gustavo Petro's win in the election. After the 7th of August, this person will also serve as their commander-in-chief. In the event that public recognition does not materialise, Petro's presidency will be under stress from the beginning, and allegations of a coup will continue to swirl. It is imperative that nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in Colombia as well as the international world pay special attention to this.

In any event, the next president will face an overwhelming number of challenges in his first term. Already, it is questionable whether or not Petro will find a majority in the Colombian parliament for a fundamental change in the country's unequal living conditions, high unemployment rate, inflation rate, and national debt, as well as for the necessary socio-ecological transformation of the country.

Despite the fact that some members of parliament from his left-leaning progressive coalition Pacto Histórico support Petro after the congressional elections in March, he does not yet have a parliamentary majority in his own right. In addition, the newly elected MPs are need to demonstrate first that they are capable of working cohesively with one another and leading a government with the ministers who will be selected. The complex and varied spectrum of the Pacto Histórico already contains tensions that have been pre-programmed. The following are some of the most pressing responsibilities that the government has:

The resumption of negotiations toward peace The peace process that was negotiated in 2016 with the former rebel organisation FARC has been hardly executed throughout the course of the previous four years under the ultra-right administration of Iván Duque. Restarting it, pushing for it to be implemented, and making sure that social and local leaders are better safeguarded from relocation, violence, and murder are all responsibilities that fall on President Petro. Just in one single year, the lives of more than 60 of these social leaders have been taken.

This procedure would need to be followed by a conversation with the ELN, which is the last surviving guerrilla group. The incoming administration will need to focus on sending signals related to this matter and outlining parameters about whether or not discussions may take place and how they should proceed.

A new economic policy: Petro replaces its unpopular predecessor in a nation that has had the highest inflation rate over the last 21 years. In light of the fact that the national debt presently accounts for over 63 percent of GDP and that the budget deficit is more than 6 percent, the president-elect has said that he intends to begin his time in office by enacting fundamental tax reform. This results in a greater rise in the amount of the tax burden borne by the wealthiest 0.01 percent of the population. The political right has a deep antipathy against this proposition. During the course of the election campaign, they tried all in their power to undermine Petro's reputation by accusing him of making plans for the economic collapse of the nation.

Commitment to women's rights and greater equality: Petro proposes the creation of a Ministry of Equality, which would be responsible for formulating all policies to empower women, sexual orientation, generations, and ethnic and regional diversity in Colombia. The Ministry of Equality would be led by Francia Márquez.

Women, in particular, might look forward to receiving preferential access to public higher education, credit, as well as the distribution and formalisation of land tenure if Petro were implemented.

Reform of the landholding system and protection of the country's indigenous people, agricultural workers, and Afro-Colombian women: One of the basic reasons why there is violent conflict in Colombia is because the land is divided up in such a way that is exceedingly uneven. The internal displacements that have occurred over the past few decades have resulted in the expansion of agricultural areas. The tensions that have arisen as a result of this expansion are the root cause of the conflicts that occur between indigenous and Afro-Colombian ethnic communities and peasant women regarding access to these lands.

All of these groups were excluded from the growth of the nation and continue to be marginalised, while at the same time being among those who are among the most impacted by the violent dynamics of the armed conflict. The government of Petro will need to take steps to guarantee a more equal distribution that makes it possible for ethnic and rural groups to get included into production and development cycles.

During the social demonstrations that took place in Colombia in 2018 (as well as in 2019 and 2020), the demand for more public and high-quality education was one of the core themes that was sent by the majority of the people who were protesting peacefully. Petro has given them his word that he would establish a system of higher education that will largely focus on bolstering public institutions and secondary schools.

More concern for the environment: During the administration of President Duque, environmental and climate protection in Colombia were largely ignored, leading to a rise in deforestation and the approval of the first pilot wells for hydraulic fracturing. Both Petro and Márquez have declared that there would be a significant course correction. They propose an energy transition that does not allow for the construction of any new oil fields in the foreseeable future and depend on a production and service model that is less harmful to the environment. Alongside this procedure, a land reform regarding unproductive areas, which have been formed for the most part as a result of unlawful deforestation, is to be implemented.

However, the President and his cabinet will also need to find solutions to other pressing issues, such as the need for an integrated security reform, a diversified and innovative foreign policy, a different drug strategy, and the control of drugs. These are all very significant topics. At the same time, she can't afford to ignore the vital coalition with the general public that was ultimately responsible for putting both of them in government.

On that momentous Sunday in June 2022, Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez accomplished things that would go down in history books. Both parties have very high standards, which may be impossible to meet. On the one hand, the victorious pair has to keep their relationship strong and be willing to make concessions. Both candidates have inspired a great deal of optimism and serve as models for the future Colombia; they share the goal of creating a republic that is more democratic, more democratically secure, more ecologically friendly, and more socially just.

A political inflection point has been reached in Colombia as a result of the majority of the country's voters removing ultra-conservative and liberal power elites from their positions of influence. It is unrealistic to anticipate that the losers would embrace the new role of opposition in a positive manner and see it as an essential component of a strengthened democracy. Rather, it is to be feared that they will launch an immediate attack on the new administration and do all in their power to ensure that it is unsuccessful.

Even while President Petro will make errors, his hopeful backers in civil society and the more than 10 million people whom he has not yet been able to persuade of his programme and himself are not likely to allow him a grace period of one hundred days even if they do give him a chance to make amends.

He will need to rule in a way that is open, transparent, and allows for some degree of flexibility - all of which are necessary in order for him to be able to respond correctly to difficulties on both the national and international levels. It is necessary for him to change his behaviour, which is often characterised as pompous and focused on one's own interests. In addition, he need to place an emphasis on the social spirit of the squad, which served as the primary factor in the success of the Pacto Histórico. This is the only way that he will be able to achieve the urgently required changes in Colombia's economic and social policies. If he does not do this, he will not be successful in reviving the peace process. For this, he will require a large number of allies, both domestically and internationally.

It would be in everyone's best interest for leaders in Germany and Europe to publicly declare their support for the incoming President and therefore contribute to the consolidation of the peace process. In the same vein, it would be beneficial to solidify democratic institutions in the wake of this historically significant shift in administration. Both continue to be essential for the sustained and peaceful development of the nation as well as required for a Colombia that is characterised by social fairness.

The author Oliver Dalichau is the Director of the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation in Colombia FESCOL and the Latin American Network for Inclusive and Sustainable Security.
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