Bucaramanga, Colombia – Hundreds of thousands 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 imagine will assist the nation reinvent itself politically.
Rodolfo Hernandez shocked a lot of Colombia by producing a shock, second-place outcome 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 in opposition to 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 Threat Evaluation consultancy group, informed Al Jazeera.
The 77-year-old building tycoon just isn’t a typical presidential candidate in Colombia, the place for the previous couple of a long time 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 delight. 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 phase of Colombia’s voters, specifically low-income and fewer educated voters, defined Guzman. “He represents a frustration with your entire system,” Guzman mentioned.
“Quite a lot 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 performed, 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 normal 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 his fastidiously 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 assist for liberal insurance policies reminiscent of marriage equality, widespread drug legalisation, abortion rights, and opposition to fracking.
He has additionally expressed assist 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 lively 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 just isn’t particular on a number of matters.”
Beccassino categorised Hernandez as a candidate of “a brand new model of centrism” and described him as “a person of knowledge somewhat than data”.
The candidate has refused to take part in any of the presidential debates all through the marketing campaign, nevertheless, 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 quite a lot of days.
Frustration with established order
The vote comes because the Colombian voters is aching for political change after the nation noticed huge, nationwide protests final yr demanding an finish to structural inequalities and police violence. Outgoing conservative President Ivan Duque has since seen his recognition plummet, reaching a 73 % disapproval ranking earlier this yr.
“Colombians don’t need a profession politician proper now,” mentioned Will Freeman, a PhD candidate at Princeton College in america and an skilled on politics and anti-corruption in Latin America.
And each Hernandez and Petro are “options to the political established order”, Freeman mentioned.
“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 now we have to gamble on one thing completely different though that comes with a whole lot of uncertainty.’”
Amid the dearth of readability in Hernandez’s presidential plans, one promise has remained fixed: his dedication to unravel the nation’s endemic corruption. He has typically 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 lively 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 mentioned, with out going into additional element. A trial is scheduled for mid-July.
“The Engineer”, as Hernandez can be identified amongst his supporters resulting from his coaching as a civil engineer, isn’t any stranger to controversy.
He has come below fireplace for making sexist remarks and xenophobic feedback in opposition to Venezuelan migrant ladies, for labelling a neighborhood fireplace division “fats and lazy”, and for expressing his admiration for “the good German thinker Adolf Hitler”. He later corrected himself on the latter level and mentioned he meant to say Albert Einstein.
Earlier on within the marketing campaign, he mentioned 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 emperor,” John Claro, 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 whenever you inform him the reality, as I did,” Claro mentioned.
Based on the Inspector Basic’s Workplace, Hernandez is at the moment dealing with 33 open investigations for alleged actions, together with defamation and office harassment.
‘We would like a metamorphosis’
Others have questioned whether or not Hernandez will have the ability to 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 saved the letter touting Hernandez’s “20,000 Pleased 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 document 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 positive that’s not on the highest of anybody’s thoughts,” Freeman mentioned.
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 a long time of armed battle involving radical, left-wing armed teams – to belief Petro, as many imagine his political agenda is simply too radical and fear about his previous as a fighter.
“We would like a metamorphosis, we not need extra of the identical,” Fernando Plata, a neighborhood Bucaramanga resident, informed Al Jazeera. “We would like change, we need to see an engineer as president, not a guerrilla.”