Election fraud in Colombia? A risk too real


The Damocles sword of election fraud in Colombia could end the political lives of many public officials, even the National Registrar, should the May 29 presidential election be anything short of transparent. As candidates wrapped up their campaigns late Sunday in various locations of the country, including a huge pro-“Fico” rally in central Medellín, and Petro’s filled-to-capacity rally in Bogotá’s historic Plaza de Bolívar, the spectre that fraud could determine the final vote count on Sunday was raised by the progressive candidate of Pacto Histórico, who during his last campaign stop in the coastal city of Barranquilla, stated that the elections could be “suspended” ahead of next Sunday to maintain the continuity of the current “dictorship.”

In what he called an “election coup” by unnamed entities, the front running candidate summoned two of his political rivals – Sergio Fajardo and Rodolfo Hernández – to meet Monday to defend the integrity of the ballot.

“I call on the competing campaigns, Sergio Fajardo’s campaign, Rodolfo Hernández’s campaign, to be on the alert (…) because on Tuesday, they plan to strike a blow at the elections. They plan to suspend the elections, they plan to suspend the bodies that govern the electoral process in Colombia,” Petro said. “This is not to act with uneasiness, it is to act with great serenity, what they want is for violence to break out in Colombia, to have the excuse of perpetuating the current government over popular decision. What we should not do, is fall into violence, fall into their trap.”

President Iván Duque, from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, sharply rebuked the candidate’s serious accusation, saying that “no one in their right mind can think that the elections will be suspended, or that there is going to be a coup d’état.” President Duque went on the assuage members of the global community meeting in the Alpine ski resort, that Colombia is “one of the oldest democracies in Latin America, with strong, solid institutions,” and urged all citizens “to go out and vote well.”

Sergio Fajardo, candidate of the center-left coalition Centro Esperanza, and who is trailing fourth place in the race, declined Petro’s invitation, stating on Twitter that despite the Registrar’s Office “doing a lousy job, and which has generated a lot of mistrust, I’m not going to sit down with Petro to serve as his acolyte in his new smokescreen, just six days before the election.”

Hernández, who didn’t mention Petro directly by name, also appeared to distance himself from the progressive candidate, posting with the hashtag #AFraudsterIs: “Someone who exploits the fear of the people to reach the top. In these elections vote for hope, not fear.”

The former mayor of Bucaramanga’s Tweet was released hours after Petro slighted the 77-year-old politician – without mentioning his name either – during his speech in Plaza de Bolívar. “Even the millionaire who says he fights corruption is a millionaire because he is corrupt. Even the candidate who says that he is not a Uribe supporter is a Uribe supporter.”

Petro ends campaign with rally in Bogotá’s Plaza de Bolívar/Petro Presidente

Petro’s latest target of attacks, Rodolfo Hernández, has seen his polls numbers soar in recent weeks, putting him in third place with 20% voting intention (according to Guarumo poll), and candidate who could be the “dark horse” on Sunday to face-off against Petro in the final presidential round on June 19. Petro’s ire also stems from the fact that candidate Ingrid Betancourt joined the Hernández team and is a close ideological ally of former President Álvaro Uribe, given that he orchestrated in 2008, her rescue after six years in captivity from FARC. “To Uribe, I owe my life and to him I am eternally grateful,” stated Betancourt of the Green Oxygen party.

Petro’s accusations, however, transcend one of the dirtiest campaigns this country has been subject to in recent history. As the center-right candidate Federico Gutiérrez maintains a strong second place in the polls, the former mayor of Medellín has towed a moderate line, calling for transparency, while warning Colombians “that the only person who will suspend elections – but in four years – is also a candidate who poses a real threat to Democracy.”

As the leftist leader cries wolf over election fraud, and repeatedly calls President Duque a “dictator” –  as recently as Sunday during the President’s European trip – the fraud “smoke screen” (term used by candidate Fajardo), could be fueled by the progressive’s determination to not accept nothing less than 50% plus one vote on May 29, even though he has been unable to break though the 41% threshold in voting intention, according to most polls. In the 2018 presidential run-off between candidates Duque and Petro, the then leader of the Grand Coalition for Peace, got 41.77% of the vote (or 8 million), compared the current President’s 54% (10.3 million).

Hours after President Duque’s acceptance speech, Petro declared himself in “opposition” – and over four years – insists that Colombia’s “autocrat” seized power based on fraudulent votes collected in the department of César by a powerful cattle rancher and drug trafficker, José Guillermo “Ñeñe” Hernández. Petro has used the “Ñeñepolítica” scandal as a clarion call to discredit every policy decision by the current government (including a successful mass vaccination campaign), as well as mobilize social protests against a democratically-elected “dictatorship.”

Despite a two million vote difference between Duque and Petro, the alleged 100,000 votes that José Guillermo Hernández paid for (COP$50,000 each) would not have tipped the election scales, but has cemented in petristas (Petro supporters), a conviction that the current government is illegitimate, and only the hard-left candidate has a moral authority over legitimacy. A dangerous narrative that is inching Colombia closer to an abyss of uncertainty. Or put bluntly by “Fico” Gutiérrez: “We either unite, or we’re screwed.”