Rodolfo Hernández, a populist earthquake for the second presidential round | Presidential Elections Colombia

In less than three weeks, Rodolfo Hernández moved the plates of the electoral campaign to the Presidency of Colombia. The millionaire engineer has sneaked into the second presidential round that he will dispute with Gustavo Petro. He has not only left Federico Gutiérrez, the right-wing candidate, out of the race, but also complicates the victory of Petro, who for months was the unbeatable leader in the polls.

Hernández is a 77-year-old builder, who was mayor of Bucaramanga, a city located in the east of the country, and an enigma due to his positions and his populist discourse. He emerged with a simple message of attacking the corrupt that went down very well among citizens fed up with traditional politics. With his irreverent outings and character he installed himself as the anti-establishment candidate, even above Petro, who for years has been placed on that shore.

His statements affirming that he admired Adolf Hitler, although he later said that it was a slip and that he was thinking of Einstein, or his misogynistic and xenophobic sayings about Venezuelan migrants, surprised much of the country. Hernández is remembered in Bucaramanga for having slapped an opposition councilman and for a case of alleged irregularities in the contracting of the garbage service through the Vitalogic company. The candidate has been accused of improper interest in entering into contracts.

Petro’s contender avoided debates and instead spoke directly to his voters through social networks where he was known as “the old man of Tik Tok.” Through these platforms he made populist proposals such as building low-cost housing for all Colombians, or a citadel in the middle of the countryside for prisoners. And others like making “major budget cuts”, suspending the use of presidential planes and helicopters or donating all the money he receives as president’s salary.

But he has also said that he will eliminate embassies and councils such as the one for women or that he would take away congressmen’s vehicles and force lower salaries for advisers to legislative units, among others, who have earned him the favor of his voters.

With Fico Gutiérrez out of the race, one of the questions is whether the votes of the right and, specifically, of Uribismo, go to the former mayor’s hosts. What this first round does make clear is that, for the first time in decades, former President Álvaro Uribe does not arrive with a candidate from his party for the Presidency. Uribe has been the great missing of these elections. At least publicly. His legal troubles that have undermined his popularity and the mismanagement of his political godson, Iván Duque, have left his party in a very bad political position.

Hernández has said on other occasions that he is a friend of Uribe and that the former president has helped him, although it is not known exactly how. They also resemble each other in their frontal style and the idea that they speak from the regions. When Uribe burst onto the Bogota scene, he did so in defiance of the centralist elite that had always ruled the country. He presented himself as a politician who looks from the regions, like Rodolfo. But the former mayor of Bucaramanga also represents voters from intermediate cities. During the campaign he put his force in cities like Neiva or Villavicencio.

But Hernández’s victory in this first round also means a tight spot for Gustavo Petro’s campaign, who had campaigned comfortably. The leftist candidate will have to show that the discontent that was evident in the social outbreak during 2021 is stronger than the weariness of corruption that is what the millionaire builder from Bucaramanga calls for.

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