Colombia election: New poll, Betancourt joins Hernández, Fajardo down not out

Ingrid Betancourt and Rodolfo Hernández in Barranquilla/Twitter: @IBetancourt

In the last Guarumo/El Tiempo poll released before 39 million eligible Colombians cast their ballots in the May 29 presidential election, the percentage points of the two front running candidates, Gustavo Petro and Federico “Fico” Gutiérrez remain virtually unchanged compared to a similar poll released on April 30.

With only a marginal increase for the progressive candidate Petro over three weeks (36,4% to 37,9%), and equally, for the center-right’s “Fico” (30,6% to 30,8%), the numbers were quickly discredited on social media by Petro supporters as “partisan” and “manipulative,” given that for them, their candidate be will receive at least 45% of the vote. Petro, however, faces a tough uphill climb to break through the 40% benchmark in the first round, given the surge in voting intention for the independent candidate of the Governors Anti-corruption League, Rodolfo Hernández.

The former mayor of Bucaramanga saw the highest increase in favorability among the electorate, going from 12,4% in April to a current 20,3%. The candidate that is all but out of the race is the center-left’s Sergio Fajardo, down more than two percentage points, from 6.9% to 4,3%.

Given Ingrid Betancourt’s low approval (barely above 1%) during most of the campaign, on Friday, the leader of the Oxygen Green Party decided to throw down the gauntlet and join the Hernández camp, stating that the 77-year-old politician is the “only candidate who can defeat the system.” The civil engineer and business leader welcomed Ingrid to his campaign, during a rally in the coastal city of Barranquilla, and is seen embracing the former FARC hostage in a selfie. Betancourt, from the onset of the presidential election, had expressed her gratitude to former two-term president Álvaro Uribe Vélez for saving her life with a daring rescue that deluded her kidnappers.

Betancourt’s adhesion to the “wild card” candidate in this race, could potentially mark the start of a political dialogue between “Fico” and Hernández, should the center-right candidate “Fico” become the official rival to Petro on May 29, and ahead of a final presidential vote on June 19.

As candidates wrap up this weekend their public appearances, in a bizarre act of solidarity with Colombia’s democratic process, the 1,800-strong ELN (National Liberation Army) guerrilla declared a unilateral ceasefire from May 25 to June 3 “so those who wish to vote, can do so in peace,” reads the official statement by the armed group.

“Before knowing who the winning candidate may be, we dare to create a new political moment by generating a better environment for the next election day (…) and are willing to resume talks with the government of the president who is elected.”

The oldest Marxist guerrilla in South America – after FARC demobilized in 2017 – and responsible for several “armed strikes” this year had also ordered a unilateral ceasefire to coincide with the March 13 legislative election. The ceasefire comes as the country’s Ombudsman warned of “extreme risk” to security by illegal armed groups in 84 towns during the elections. The departments with the most towns at risk are Cauca (16), Nariño (14), Chocó (9), and Norte de Santander (8). In the 14 departments where civilians could be a target of violent acts, or have their electoral rights sabotaged, both ELN and the paramilitary Gulf Clan exercise a heavy presence.