Presidential election in Colombia: young people tip the balance to the left



Bogota

From our correspondent

A festival air reigned on Bolivar Square in Bogotá a few days ago. A festive atmosphere, fruit of the many concerts that came to enamel the event, but also of the public. Many young people had made an appointment, this Sunday, May 22, on the large square located in the heart of the Colombian capital to attend the last meeting of Gustavo Petro, the left-wing candidate for the next presidential election. The first round takes place this Sunday, May 29 and the second, in the event of a tie, on June 19.

This time more than any other, Colombian youth seem to want to bring their full weight to bear in a potentially historic election. In two hundred years, Colombia has never had a left-wing president. However, this year, Gustavo Petro is the big favourite. And according to opinion polls, around 60% of young people aged 18 (the legal age for power) to 24 would support the ex-mayor of Bogotá. An all but negligible number of votes in a country where, according to official statistics, around 18% of the population is between 18 and 28 years old.

Memories of the social movement

I am 25 years old and I have only known hatred and violence for years under the presidencies of Uribe and Duque.The time for change has come.” exclaims Luis Carlos Rodigas, cook who came to listen to his champion with friends. Like him, many young people do not recognize themselves in the right in power, considered responsible for the severe repression of the great social movement of spring 2021, during which 80 people died. “The current government does not offer us any opportunityregrets Andrés Echavarria, designer of the same age as his friend. We want more social justice and that our fundamental rights are respected. »

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Among the young people who support Gustavo Petro, there are many who took part in the demonstrations last spring. Soacha repeatedly clashed with Esmad agents, Colombia’s much-maligned riot police. Today, he participates in the meetings of the left-wing candidate, whom he considers most in line with the demands emanating from social mobilization. “Voting for Petro does not replace action in the streets, but it is the best option for the social issues that we have defended to be taken up by power”, he believes. This activism is even more visible on social networks, where the groups born in parallel with the demonstrations encourage users daily to support the left-wing candidate.

The question of abstention

Gustavo Petro’s progressive program won over this young electorate. “All the candidates are trying to capture the youth vote, but Petro seems to be doing it better than the others, observes Paola Montilla, professor of political science at the Externado University of Bogotá. Its proposals in terms of the environment, social inclusion and free education appeal to young people. »

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One unknown remains: abstention. Usually, young people are the group that turns out the least at the polls. “Some have little interest in traditional forms of political participation like voting”, explains Paola Montilla. And to add: “Going to the streets one year does not mean that you will go to the polls the next year. » A scenario that all candidates, left and right, hope to avoid at all costs to tip the scales in their favor.

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