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Colombia Decides

Both candidates vow to bring the country in a new direction—away from its traditional political establishment.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A person prepares to vote in Colombia.
A person prepares to vote in Colombia.
A person prepares to vote during the presidential runoff election at a polling station set up at the Simón Bolívar International Bridge in Cúcuta, Colombia, ahead of the weekend’s election. SCHNEYDER MENDOZA/AFP

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Colombia’s presidential election, China’s new aircraft carrier, France’s legislative elections, and more news worth following from around the world.

Reader note: In recognition of the Juneteenth federal holiday in the United States, Morning Brief will not publish on Monday, June 20. It will return on Tuesday, June 21.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Colombia’s presidential election, China’s new aircraft carrier, France’s legislative elections, and more news worth following from around the world.

Reader note: In recognition of the Juneteenth federal holiday in the United States, Morning Brief will not publish on Monday, June 20. It will return on Tuesday, June 21.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Colombias Change Election

When Gustavo Petro romped to victory in the first round of Colombia’s presidential election with 40 percent of the vote, it seemed more than likely that he would go on to win the whole thing.

But as voters go to the polls this Sunday, Petro’s chances of becoming the country’s first leftist president are still 50:50 as he and his challenger, populist Rodolfo Hernández, are neck and neck in polls heading into the final straight.

In a divided country, Hernández has benefited from supporters of Federico Gutiérrez—the conservative political elite’s chosen candidate, who faltered in the first round. He is also considered safer ground for right-leaning voters who balk at Petro’s guerrilla past.

Fears of a dramatic leftward shift under Petro are likely exaggerated, with the former Bogota mayor’s promises roughly amounting to bringing European-style social democratic programs to the country. How he plans to pay for that—higher taxes on the rich and a reorientation of the economy, winding down its fossil fuel sector in favor of tourism and local industry—have also spooked conservatives.

But as other leftist leaders have seen across the continent, a popular victory often isn’t enough, with powerful legislatures often able to stymie any changes.

If his policies are to the left, his campaign team is not. As Will Freeman wrote in May, Petro has surrounded himself with some of the country’s “wiliest operators,” including those on the right of the political spectrum as he hopes to copy the playbook of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and former (and perhaps soon-to-be) Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva by bringing in the establishment to help him cross the finish line.

Indeed, Petro has pointed to López Obrador, Lula, and new Chilean President Gabriel Boric as candidates for a potential progressive alliance, with a focus on climate change policy at the forefront.

He also wants a recalibration of the usually warm U.S.-Colombia relationship, again with climate policy as the driving force. In an interview with the Economist, Petro said the U.S. status as the No. 1 carbon emitter must be squared with the vast potential of the Amazon rainforest: “They emit, and we have the sponge. And that needs a dialogue because if the Amazon rainforest is destroyed, as is already under way, humanity will suffer. So I believe that has to be the main point of any bilateral discussion with the United States, and currently it does not even feature.”

He has called for a renegotiation of the current U.S.-Colombia free trade deal to not only focus on climate change but also address the war on drugs, which he calls a “total failure.”

If Petro is something of a known quantity, a Hernández victory would lead Colombia down a more unpredictable path. The former Bucaramanga mayor only entered politics in 2015, after he built his fortune in a successful real estate business.

The “Old man of TikTok” has pledged to tackle corruption but otherwise has not put forward many concrete policy proposals. That may not matter for voters who believe “anyone but Petro” is policy enough.

Still, in a sign of the anti-establishment tilt of this election, some of his statements do line up with his leftist challenger: He is also critical of the war on drugs, opposes fracking, and favors better relations with neighboring Venezuela.

In a country with a history of election violence, police are on high alert for potential unrest. In the event of a loss, the Economist asked Petro whether he would call his supporters out on the streets to dispute it. “If they don’t steal the elections, no,” Petro replied.


What We’re Following Today

Macron’s challenge. French President Emmanuel Macron’s hopes for a smooth second term will be tested this weekend as voters go to the polls for the second and final round of parliamentary elections. Macron’s Ensemble coalition could fall short of an absolute majority if the left-wing NUPES coalition, led by defeated presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon, can continue to attract voters.

Politician Marine Le Pens far-right National Rally is expected to receive fewer votes but still do relatively well, with polls showing her party set to pass the 15-seat threshold needed to form an official group in parliament, something it hasnt done for decades.

The U.S. defense budget. The world’s largest national defense budget is about to get even bigger as U.S. senators added a further $45 billion to the original White House budget request, putting the final figure at $847 billion. Sen. Jack Reed, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the increase, which would make for the largest U.S. defense budget in history, was driven by inflation, the war in Ukraine, and a need to increase the countrys weapons stockpile. The number is not final, with the House of Representatives and the Senate Appropriations Committee still needing to weigh in.

China’s new aircraft carrier. The Chinese navy successfully launched its third aircraft carrier, the first to be built and designed locally, on Friday. The carrier, christened the Fujian, is likely to take another year before it becomes fully operational as it goes through further testing phases.


Odds and Ends

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was caught on a hot mic on Thursday lamenting one of the unintended consequences of the international sanctions campaign against Russia: government maintenance of seized oligarch yachts.

“You know what the craziest thing is? When we seize one, we have to pay for upkeep,” Sullivan said in conversation about the yachts at a think tank event. “The federal government pays for upkeep because under the kind of forfeiture rubric, so like some people are basically being paid to maintain Russian superyachts on behalf of the United States government.”

As Business Insider reports, that work is usually done by the U.S. Marshals Service, which is charged with keeping seized property in good condition.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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