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Clara Ferreira Marques

For Colombia’s New Leader, Winning Was the Easy Part

The Latin American nation has voted out its pro-business political establishment. But to stand a chance of meeting sky-high expectations, president-elect Gustavo Petro needs moderation.

New faces meet some old problems.

New faces meet some old problems.

Photographer: Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images

Colombia has just become the latest nation in Latin America to break with its political past. Frustrated by decades of unresolved inequality and discontent, voters put not one but two anti-establishment candidates in Sunday’s second round — and then backed Gustavo Petro, guerrilla turned senator, to become the country’s first leftist leader. His running mate, environmental activist Francia Marquez, will become the first Black vice president, putting race, class and rural poverty on the agenda in a country that has long preferred to focus elsewhere.

The trouble is that it’s one thing for opposition candidates to draw disgruntled Colombians to the ballot box — and turnout was higher than it has been in years — but it will be quite another to govern this fractured nation when public finances are fragile, democratic institutions bruised and the country divided. A glance at the post-electoral vicissitudes of youthful leftist Gabriel Boric in Chile or rural school teacher-turned-politician Pedro Castillo in Peru, with his revolving cabinets, suggests only one path: The president-elect needs to build bridges fast to push through even a portion of his ambitious social and green agenda. After a post-results speech full of aspirational promises, his cabinet choices and legislative plans must show signs of pragmatism as well as greater inclusion.