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Latin America News

Colombia poised to take a sharp turn to the left or right; Defeated candidate could play ‘king maker’

Former Medellin mayor Sergio Fajardo could play the decisive role in determining whether Colombia turns to the political left or right. Fajardo narrowly missed making it into the presidential run-off election, June 17, against conservative Ivan Duque, being edged out by leftist Gustavo Petro in last Sunday’s vote.

Sergio Fajardo

Duque, supported by former president Alvaro Uribe, led the field in first-round voting, polling 38 percent against Petro’s 24 percent and Fajardo’s 23 percent.

Fajardo’s voters may ultimately determine who will be sworn in as president August 7. On most issues, Fajardo’s position are much more in line with Petro’s than Duque’s. Fajardo ran on a center-left platform.

The stakes are high: “We cannot allow violence to mark our lives again,” Fajardo said after admitting defeat on Sunday, repeating his support for the government’s peace agreement with the leftist FARC guerrillas.

Duque, who opposed the agreement, has vowed to make unilateral changes to the 2016 deal if he’s elected, possibly ending it and the amnesty it granted to former rebel fighters.

Fajardo, Petro and Liberal Party candidate Humberto de la Calle agree that this would pose a major threat to the fragile peace process and could reignite the country’s decades-long armed conflict.

According to Fajardo, “We must keep our word in relation to the peace agreements because Colombia needs to build peace.” But his supporters have been divided about whether they want to move as far left as Petro, a former guerrilla, to promote peace.

If the former Medellin mayor is able to convince them to back Petro, his coalition could be the deciding factor.

Fajardo, a mathematics professor by trade, previously ruled out a coalition with Petro and has blamed the leftist for contributing to the polarization that divided the electorate.

However, a coalition with Duque is much less likely. The conservative candidate is supported by some of Colombia’s most fundamentalist politicians who have consistently opposed the peace process that could send some to prison.

Petro, who is a former member of the M-19 rebel group, is also a strong advocate on maintaining a deal that ended more than a half a century of war. “We want to construct a forward-thinking Colombia, so that our children and grandchildren and those beyond may forget the word massacre,” Petro said recently.

So far, Fajardo’s decision remains a mystery. The candidate has made no hint about what his “Colombia Coalition” will do between now and the second round of voting on June 17.