By Oliver Griffin
BOGOTA (Reuters) – Business magnate and self-styled “king of TikTok” Rodolfo Hernandez, who shocked Colombia by getting into a June 19 presidential run-off against leftist Gustavo Petro, is betting his plain anti-corruption message will take him to the top job.
Hernandez, a septuagenarian former mayor of the northern city Bucaramanga, won 28.2% of votes in a first election round on Sunday, beating establishment favorite Federico Gutierrez for second place in a surprise result.
Petro, long forecast to win the first round, won 40.3%.
Surveys ahead of the first round showed Hernandez – who now has the support of Gutierrez and likely many of his supporters – would lag just a few points behind Petro in a run-off vote.
“We have achieved a historic result, a result that has shaken the foundations of the corrupt power of all recent governments,” Hernandez wrote in a message posted on Facebook on Sunday evening.
Despite employing fiery rhetoric to rail against the corruption of the political class, Hernandez faces an investigation by the attorney general’s office for allegedly intervening in a trash collection tender while mayor to benefit a company his son had lobbied for.
Hernandez denies the accusations and insists they are designed to derail his presidency bid.
That accusation is not his only scandal.
He resigned as mayor after he got in hot water with the procurator general for participating in politics – prohibited for Colombian officials after election – and was also suspended for slapping a city councillor and calling him a “son of a bitch.”
He also once told local radio he admired Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, later calling the comment a “lapse”.
KING OF TIKTOK
Hernandez has relied heavily on social media, posting eccentric videos on TikTok, including one of him riding an electric scooter.
A video shared on election day showed a relaxed swimsuit-clad Hernandez spending time with his family and receiving a painting made by his young granddaughter.
The whimsical content belies his personal knowledge of the suffering caused by Colombia’s nearly 60 years of war.
Hernandez’s farmer father was held for months by the FARC guerrillas decades ago, while his daughter, Juliana, was kidnapped by the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebels in 2004.
He believes she was murdered in captivity, but has said he would explore peace talks with the ELN if elected and continue to implement a 2016 deal with the FARC.
Hernandez has also pledged to strengthen law and order and create jobs, although he has shared scant details of those plans.
“His top policy priorities are two. One is anti-corruption … the other is poverty, inequality and specifically hunger,” Will Freeman, a doctoral candidate in politics at Princeton University who studies anti-corruption efforts told Reuters, noting both Hernandez and Petro have decried the need for food imports.
Hernandez, a civil engineer, says he amassed a fortune of $100 million via his construction company and has vowed to donate his presidential salary if victorious in June.
(Reporting by Oliver Griffin; Additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Bradley Perrett)