Gustavo Petro's victory is not only a response to the social ills of today, but having been part of a Marxist guerrilla group that negotiated with the state decades ago, and returned to the social fold, he embodies the nation's democratic future.
BOGOTÁ — After decades of stigmatizing anything to do with the Left — to the point of annihilating an entire political party for its ideas — Colombia has elected for the first time — and quite decisively — a president of the Left. The election of Gustavo Petro and his vice-president, Francia Márquez, was itself one of the promises of the peace Colombia has sought for so long: with an orderly handover of power, the inclusion of all political positions and the possibility to work through our differences by voting.
The elections were a thumping rejection of the outgoing government of President Iván Duque and decades of dominance by the conservative currents led by his mentor, the former president Álvaro Uribe. The question now is: how shall we heal so many festering wounds in this country?
Looking back on Petro's Marxist past
It is important to look back. Petro was a member of the M-19, the Marxist guerrilla group that negotiated with the state decades ago, and returned to the social fold. Since then, its members have been crucial to the state-building effort.
Petro's election confirms the guerrilla's former initiatives and shows the importance of a peaceful path and rejection of arms to win power. The elections have shown that Colombia is committed to the democratic and institutional option, which in itself is to be celebrated.
The figures attained should also mean a decisive mandate, and the presidential authority that comes with it. The experts had their doubts before, but Petro added three million votes to his first-round score, and some 700,000 more than his rival, Rodolfo Hernández.
The participation rate was at around 58%, which is a historic high in our electoral history. If we add to this the votes given to the (leftist) Historical Pact (Pacto histórico) in parliamentary elections, it is clear most Colombians are asking for change.
Unity and reconstruction
Supporters of Gustavo Petro, Colombia's new left-wing president, celebrate his victory in Bogota, Colombia on Monday.
Petro must now be allowed to govern. Clearly we need oversight, with vigorous institutions that act as counterweights. Political deadlock would particularly signify a rejection of the majority's choice. But the president must also see the massive number of votes cast for his rival as a need to take that constituency into account, and the same may be said of a half million blank votes.
The damage done after a vicious campaign
After a vicious campaign, it is now time to speak of unity and reconstruction, with actions complementing the important work of finding the right words.
The election of the country's first Afro-Caribbean vice-president is furthermore a message to the country's forgotten and downtrodden communities. The country's most vulnerable territories backed the Petro ticket, and expect an Equality ministry to start working on healing the country's immense rifts.
Colombia wanted change and has voted for it. What comes next will depend on how well the tattered social threads can be put back together after an election that was particularly divisive.
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