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Elections 2022: Sergio Fajardo struggles to stay afloat in search of the presidency of Colombia | International

Sergio Fajardo in a campaign act, on March 30 at the Astor Plaza theater in Bogotá.
Sergio Fajardo in a campaign act, on March 30 at the Astor Plaza theater in Bogotá.Courtesy

Sergio Fajardo has left his comfort zone. Forced by the weakness of the center coalition in the referendum that made him its presidential candidate, the former governor of Antioquia is for the first time willing to take the stage as part of a new stage of his campaign, which he promotes as “the comeback” and seeks to shorten distances with the left and right candidates who surpass him in the polls, Gustavo Petro and Federico Gutiérrez. The center needs a turnaround to close the gap with Fico Gutiérrez in the fight for a place in the second round that Petro seems to have assured.

Fajardo, a mathematician who ventured into politics more than 20 years ago, has distinguished himself by his activities of leafleting in the streets, as the distribution of brochures and spontaneous exchange with citizens is known in Colombia. Thus he became mayor of Medellin and governor of Antioquia, but now it does not seem to be enough. “I am going to do something that I have never done in my life,” Fajardo himself acknowledged before launching speeches, amid a shower of confetti, on March 30 at the Astor Plaza, a traditional theater in Bogotá. The next day held the support of 300 intellectuals and opinion leaders. That event was the launch of a strategy that has not yet shown its impact in opinion polls ahead of the first round on May 29.

“I am going to rehearse my new way of greeting, with my eyes wide open, smiling and with all the joy I have,” the candidate joked this Sunday when speaking at a national meeting of volunteers, with some shyness, but willing to give the Fight. “They want to finish us off, they want to get us out, they want to bring us to our knees, they want to intimidate us, they want to destroy us, they want to grind us down. And they have not been able to, nor will they be able to. They know very well what we are capable of. Four years ago we saw the movie. In more difficult conditions than we are in today, we were able to come back and for a very little bit we did not make it to the second round”, he pointed out. He was referring to the first round of 2018, when he obtained more than 4.5 million votes and was only 200,000 behind Petro, who disputed the ballotage with President Iván Duque. At that time, the polls failed to capture Fajardo’s growth, which allowed him to rise in the final stretch.

“Both the right and the left should start saying that this is already between Petro and Fico, and that the useful vote has to take action. Fico needs to make us all believe that the center no longer exists, and so does Petro”, pointed out Juanita León, director of the political portal the empty chair, in a recent interview with this newspaper. “Now, there are reasons to think that the center does not have great possibilities,” he added, recalling that in the consultations of the three large blocks, Gutiérrez tripled Fajardo’s votes, and Petro quintupled them. Both were catapulted out of that kind of primaries, while Fajardo, despite winning within his alliance, lagged behind with 723,000 votes.

Analyst León Valencia agrees that “the extremes help each other to polarize the campaign to sink the center.” “That is usually the strategy”, he points out: to prematurely precipitate a second-round scenario. “What is new is that Uribismo is in decline, which is the sector that has the greatest polarization muscle, and in this reality Petro has achieved a great advantage. At this moment, Petro is in the second round and the dispute is who passes with him, ”he adds.

Although the majority of Colombians state that they consider themselves to be in the center in opinion polls, and the other members of the alliance have closed ranks in support of their candidate -after overcoming numerous disagreements-, the polls published since then have not been particularly promising for the Hope Center Coalition. While Petro has marked around 35% of the preferences and Gutiérrez 24%, Fajardo achieves 10% of the support, tied with the former mayor of Bucaramanga Rodolfo Hernández, who has remained outside any block.

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Fajardo starts with the more than two million votes obtained by the center’s five pre-candidates, and intends to woo those who did not participate in the consultations. “The strategy is more aimed at convincing a sector of the electorate that has not yet defined itself by a presidential alternative, because it is waiting for proposals outside of polarization,” Luis Gilberto Murillo, the vice-presidential formula of the former governor of Antioch. He assures that Fajardo is the one with the most room to grow. In his opinion, going to the second round would practically guarantee the presidency. His campaign has insisted on the idea that there is no other more competitive candidate in that instance, but for that he has to be one of the two most voted candidates in the first round of May 29 -and that the first does not exceed half of the votes-.

This electoral season has the peculiarity that the consultations remained in the imagination of many as if it had been a first round, says consultant and political analyst Andrés Mejía Vergnaud. With this background, which weighs like a burden, people assume that Petro and Fico are going to be the most voted options. “My impression is that all the incentives are there for people to look for a winger. That for Fajardo is a very difficult obstacle, no matter how much he changes his campaign”, he warns. “The comeback is possible, for now it does not seem likely.”

“Not more of the same, not a jump into the void,” reads one of the messages that Fajardo’s campaign tries to position, which is presented as the option for responsible change. The turnaround he is seeking includes the publicized arrival of strategist Teddy Goff, who has advised Barack Obama in the United States. He also launched an offensive in the regions of the majority of the Alianza Verde party, with important efforts in places such as Valle del Cauca, Antioquia, Santander, the Eje Cafetero and Bogotá. “What he has done is resist in these first attacks, stay there with 10%. The next surveys will say if he begins to react and grow, that would have to be seen in the next 15 days, “says Valencia. Fajardo needs Holy Week to also be his resurrection week.

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