Can Sergio Fajardo prove himself to Colombia?

By Arjun Harindranath May 27, 2018

Image by Jonathan Hernández

‘Proof’ is a crucial concept in math. It’s the act of coming to significant conclusions using deductions from more fundamental premises. The most beautiful theorems in mathematics are derived from duller axioms. ‘Proof’ can be the act of making ‘beautiful’ from the ‘banal’.

As a mathematician, Sergio Fajardo can appreciate the idea of forming beautiful things from more fundamental principles. His trinity of axioms–to govern free from corruption, to unite rather than divide and to ensure education for all–have been his core values his entire political life in the hope that beauty would be gradually revealed if these values remained unchanged.

At the beginning of his campaign, in December of 2017, this was a winning idea with most polls showing him as the leading contender for president. Today, after unpersuasive debate performances that failed to communicate the generosity of his campaign pledges, polls have him in third place and unlikely to advance to the next round. His supporters, a large swathe of young Colombians who have enthusiastically backed his campaign, believe that he’s ready. Can Fajardo prove himself to the rest of Colombia?

Fajardo has been in politics long enough to know that being agreeable isn’t necessarily going to win elections. His first foray in politics saw him lose the 2000 mayoral election to Luis Perez, but the turnout for a candidate refreshingly free of ideology and party politics was encouraging enough for him to try once again in 2004. Fajardo won that race handily and was mayor of Medellín for a  four year term whereby the city underwent a renaissance, shedding its violent past in favour of investments in education, urban planning and transportation.

His policies at that time won over the sceptics and garnered international acclaim for the manner in which the city was transformed in such a short time. However, despite his popularity, paisa politics reared its ugly head and a vicious campaign in 2008 left Fajardo once again on the outside.

But it has always been on the outside that Fajardo found himself most at home, free of party politics and ideology that got in the way of achieving. He believes he is sufficiently outside of the system that games politicians and his drive against corruption in politics has also been a crucial part of his platform.

In 2011, Fajardo was chosen to be Governor of Antioquia and he served once again as a popular leader in the region, though his critics bemoaned his having left the department with debt and point to the fiasco relating to the closure of Medellín’s library in Santo Domingo as evidence of an inability to govern.

As governor, education had been the foundational premise on which he governed from. His presidential proposals are no different. If sworn in as president, Fajardo has pledged to increase the education budget by 10% annually as well as increase the number of seats for students and improve the quality of teachers. The controversial program of Ser Pilo Pagar (‘It pays to be smart’- a government program that provides financial incentives for students) was criticised by Fajardo as having insufficient coverage and being largely in favour of elite universities. However, he wants to extend the program to more students rather than scrap it, and have students and universities that were able to benefit from the system to also give back to the pool. The importance of education also bleeds into other themes, including the prevention of crime, the reduction of poverty and the improvement of the economy.

Fajardo’s views on the peace process is reflective of his desire to form a synthesis between differing viewpoints. Having worked at the peace facilitation commission in Antioquia, and being approved both by Samper and Uribe in his time there, Fajardo worked his way up through the divisive politics of Antioquia often finding common ground between opposing perspectives.

It is true that Fajardo is third in the polls. But it is also true that, were he to make it to the second round, he is likely to win the presidency. In other words, when looking at the candidates individually against Fajardo, he seems to come up on top. Yet in a pool awash with different choices for left-leaning voters, Fajardo can do no better than third place. The details of democracy sometimes throws up such paradoxes. The US finds that out time and time again with the electoral college when it sometimes trumps the popular vote.

When The Bogotá Post spoke last month to Carlos Felipe Reyes, Fajardo’s campaign manager, the polls weren’t as relevant as getting his message out further. “Fajardo is a different type of candidate.” Reyes told us, “He realised after the primaries that we had to diversify our opinions on different issues that matter to Colombians. To that end the coalition with Claudia Lopez, Antanas Mockus and Jorge Robledo has helped us communicate and grow our message.”

Reyes mentioned the three characteristics that he believes will lead to a Fajardo victory today. “He has experience as a governor where he transformed the city with the Medellín city council and gained many plaudits” Reyes told us. The proof, as is often said in English, is in the pudding. In a city associated with  cartels and violence, Fajardo was a crucial cog in its transformation to something more beautiful. In addition to this, Reyes also counted on Fajardo’s ability to make good on his promises and remain principled. And finally, as with his tenure as governor of Antioquia, Reyes believes that Fajardo’s ability to work across the aisle will make him the best candidate in the race.

His supporters are adamant that Fajardo has done all that he could. Today, the mathematician from Antioquia will find out if he will have yet another chance to prove himself.