Rodolfo Hernández shows his marked card at a voting center in Bucaramanga (Colombia).CHELO CAMACHO (El País)
To Rodolfo Hernández any chair would have seemed better than one in the Senate. The indescribable politician who shook up the Colombian campaign in 2022 and managed to get 10.5 million people to vote for him as president, barely lasted two months in the seat he had won. With deep contempt for Congress – the size of his appreciation for himself – he said goodbye with this phrase: “It’s like having Lionel Messi as a goalkeeper.” And he returned to Bucaramanga, origin and destination of his career for the Presidency. Political theory would place him as the leader of the opposition, but the former Santander mayor was not up to that. “The most valuable thing is actions and not gossip,” he concluded as goodbye.
His idea of Congress is not far from what ordinary citizens think of the institution, with a disapproval of more than 70%. A discredit to which is added that, like the nicknamed engineer Hernández, the presidential candidates no longer leave their Chambers. The traditional political career is no longer carved out in Congress, the place where current President Gustavo Petro saw his figure grow as the scourge of former President Álvaro Uribe. The presidents, or candidates, now arrive from the regions, on a round trip path with which they seek first notoriety and then permanence. The most recent are Hernández himself (Bucaramanga), Fico Gutiérrez (Medellín) or Álex Char (Barranquilla), who after their greater or lesser success in the presidential campaign will fight in the regional elections on October 29 to recover the mayoralties that a day were his. It is the way they have to survive on the national scene.
This new way of pursuing a political career has gone parallel to the crisis of the parties. The years in which the Congressional benches were blue (of the Conservative Party) and red (of the Liberal Party) are long gone. The Senate leaving the polls in 2022 houses 12 parties, coalitions or movements. The traditional parties have lost strength and no longer have the capacity to mobilize their increasingly fewer bases around a home candidate. Citizens have also lost interest in acronyms, as seen in surveys, and names and speech are imposed on ideologies or programs. The four 2022 presidential candidates had been mayors of large cities, far from the usual political parties.
Uribe was one of the first to inaugurate this way of reaching the first position in the State. The former president entered the Nariño Palace in 2002 from the Government of Antioquia, initially being unknown in Bogotá. After being mayors of the capital, Antanas Mockus – he reached the second round – and Enrique Peñalosa also tried without success. Figures, some of them, who occupy that role of anti-politics, anti-establishment or outsider candidate, as Hernández liked to present himself, even though he was not a newcomer.
The current system devours the parties as it did in recent years with the Democratic Center, a formation that former President Uribe created in 2014, and that reached the second round that year with Óscar Iván Zuluaga, and in 2018 the presidency with Iván Duque. In the last elections, the party did not even present its own candidate and relied on support for Federico Gutiérrez, who did not advance to the second round despite having the approval of the entire conservative establishment. Many of these votes ended up in the hands of the populism propagated by billionaire Hernández during his campaign.
With this panorama, political life could seem short and the change of faces constant, but nothing could be further from the truth. The eternal Colombian candidates have found their political refuge in the regions, where clans, families, networks and impossible coalitions operate more than parties, supporting one candidate or another thanks to agreements that can respond to everything except the ideological question. . An example of this is Char, in Barranquilla, or Gutiérrez, in Medellín, where they lead the polls to recover the mayor’s office and from where they promise to rebuild an opposition to the central government that is orphaned in Congress. If they succeed, no one rules out that they try again in the next presidential elections. The Colombian centralism that turns Bogotá into the core of the country loses its reason for being in politics, where the round trip from the regions to the race for the Presidency is as fast, Hernández would say, as having Messi as a forward .
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