Thoughts on Colombia’s Presidential Election

Colombia's Presidential Election
Gustavo Petro as mayor of Bogotá in 2012

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Colombia’s Presidential Election

Yesterday Gustavo Petro won Colombia’s presidential election. Many journalists and commentators have already written extensively about the electoral campaign. Perhaps the most common narrative is Gustavo Petro as Columbia’s first leftist president. For readers in the United States or Europe this may come across as surprising. However, Colombia’s leftwing politics have historical ties to guerrilla movements like the FARC. Petro himself has ties to the rebel group, M-19. However, it demobilized in 1990 so it has a long history of participation democratic politics. Nonetheless, the question on many minds is whether Gustavo Petro will govern democratically.

Of course, his opponent, Rodolfo Hernández, raised many concerns of his own. He represented a far right populist approach to governance. Like many populists his political style left a lot to be desired. The Economist notes as mayor of Bucaramangua, Hernández slapped a city councilor, denounced a public official for corruption without proof, and used his office to campaign for his successor. Moreover, he will soon stand trial for a corruption charge from his time in office.

It’s hard to imagine Gustavo Petro was not the best option in the runoff election. Still, this is not the same as a ringing endorsement. The New York Times quotes Daniel Garcia-Peña as saying, “Mr. Petro also has a reputation for an authoritarian streak. As mayor of Bogotá, he circumvented the City Council and often failed to listen to advisers.” Many of us may prefer the leftist populism of Petro to the rightwing populism of Hernández, but it’s still populism. Truly democratic leaders legitimize their rule through their style of governance as much as their ability to win elections. So, let’s hope Petro is more than just a leftist. I hope he also governs as a genuine democrat as well.

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