Camila Zuluaga is a Colombian journalist and political commentator at W Radio.
The Colombian presidential candidates who moved to a runoff this Sunday represent two ideological extremes. But many voters who supported centrist candidates — among them Sergio Fajardo, who came in third with more than 4 million votes — are pondering what do next.
Where are the centrist votes going? Four alternatives are possible: vote for Iván Duque, an inexperienced right-wing senator; vote for Gustavo Petro, a leftist former guerrilla; cast a blank ballot; or not vote at all. Each option is a legitimate democratic choice.
I will be casting a blank vote.
Like many voters who didn’t support either Duque or Petro, I feel deeply alienated by the polarizing campaign. This is the main reason Fajardo and another centrist candidate, Humberto de la Calle, who also lost in the first round, are not endorsing any of the contenders. Their decision to cast a blank vote reflects the frustrations of many.
Duque is heading for victory. Polls have him 15 points above his opponent. This puts the peace accords the outgoing administration of President Juan Manuel Santos negotiated and signed with the FARC guerrillas at risk. Duque has announced a revision of the agreements and pledged to prosecute guerrilla leaders, which many fear could push them and their followers to return to the battlefield.
A Petro government, in contrast, would maintain the accord with the FARC and would continue peace negotiations with another rebel group, the ELN. But Petro’s divisive class rhetoric could create economic instability and deepen polarization. He generates distrust because of his mild critiques of the socialist regime of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. He was also an inefficient manager as mayor of Bogota.
Four years ago, many of us were at a similar crossroads. Colombians had to choose in the second round between Santos, who was seeking reelection, and Óscar Iván Zuluaga. But both options represented the status quo and had similar economic platforms; the only real difference was their opposing views of the peace process.
Today the peace accord remains at the heart of the divide, but it’s not the only matter that is at stake.
I fear Duque will roll back the social progress Colombia has seen on the recognition of the LGBT rights; the restitution of lands for the displaced; and more drug-fighting policies. Despite being a young man, Duque takes very conservative and rigid positions. He’s also under the shadow of former president Álvaro Uribe, who is one of the most popular but also deeply polarizing figures in Colombia.
On the other hand, what I fear about Petro is his proven unwillingness to respect institutions and his lack of capacity to accept criticism. When he was mayor of Bogota, many of his cabinet members resigned, citing his despotic personality.
This Sunday I’ll cast a blank vote not to wash my hands but to send a clear message: We need to recover the center. Duque and Petro supporters are fiercely attacking this position. It’s part of pattern of labeling any opposing view as invalid. But casting a blank vote is a form protest, a manifestation of citizens supporting the political system but making clear their discontent with the existing sectarian options.