Rodolfo Hernandez is vying for Colombia’s presidency: Meet the controversial, self-proclaimed ‘King of TikTok’

Rodolfo Hernandez is vying for Colombia’s presidency: Meet the controversial, self-proclaimed ‘King of TikTok’

Rodolfo Hernandez is vying for Colombia’s presidency: Meet the controversial, self-proclaimed ‘King of TikTok’

On 19 June, Colombians are set to vote in a run-off that will determine the future of their country.

Until a couple of weeks ago, no one could have imagined that businessman Rodolfo Hernandez could ever be in contention for president of Colombia.

Let's take a closer at Hernandez and why he is called the ‘King of TikTok':

Who is he?

Hernandez is a 77-year-old businessman and political maverick.

An engineer by training, Hernandez made his fortune building low-cost housing in his native Piedecuesta, near the Venezuelan border, in the 1970s.

He served a single term as mayor of Bucaramanga, the largest city in the region, from 2016 to 2019, and is the subject of an investigation for alleged contract graft that dates from that time.

As mayor, he became known nationally for weekly Facebook broadcasts in which he answered questions from citizens, and for his public fights with city councillors he accused of being thieving "rats".

In 2018, Hernandez was suspended for three months for slapping a councillor.

Today, one of his campaign slogans invites voters to "slap corruption."

How did he rise to prominence?

The populist rode a wave of disgust at the country’s condition to what until just weeks ago would have been a shocking place in the run-off, surging late in the campaign past more conventional candidates.

“Hernandez was not seen as a viable contender until three weeks before the first round,” Sergio Guzman, a political analyst and director of the Colombia Risk Analysis consultancy group, told Al Jazeera.

As per Al Jazeera, the septuagenarian held few political rallies and instead campaigned predominantly through his carefully crafted social media channels.

He has dubbed himself the “King of TikTok”, a platform on which he has amassed more than 500,000 followers.

Hernandez is aware of his differences and brandishes them with pride. He is brash, controversial, and foul-mouthed, and has built his presidential campaign around his position as a political outsider and straight-shooting “regular Joe”.

Rodolfo Hernandez, presidential candidate with the League of Anti-Corruption Leaders, leaves a polling station after voting in the presidential election in Bucaramanga, Colombia. AP Photo/Mauricio Pinzon

That is what appeals to a large segment of Colombia’s electorate, namely low-income and less educated voters, explained Guzman. “He represents a frustration with the entire system,” Guzman said.

“A lot of low-income and uneducated Colombians, which make up the bulk of the voting population, resonate with that. They’re not very into details, they don’t care about fancy programmes or fancy universities, they care about an old man that can get s**t done, and that’s the image that Hernandez has tried to sell quite effectively.

What are his political leanings?

Not aligned to any political party and running on an anti-corruption platform, Hernandez has been likened to a Colombian Donald Trump.

Much like Trump, he avoids the media as much as possible.

Unlike Trump, Hernandez ran an austere campaign — unaffiliated with any major party — that was waged mostly on social media with a message that cantered on reducing corruption and cutting wasteful government spending,

His platform is described as inscrutable, with no obviously left- or right-leaning political doctrine.

Within weeks he made a U-turn from supporting fracking and the use of the poison glyphosate to destroy coca crops, to rejecting both.

Hernandez's proposals include closing embassies to pay off student loans and making a visit to the sea at least once in life a right for all Colombians.

He has vowed to re-establish diplomatic ties with Venezuela, but threatens at the same time to deport hundreds of thousands of migrants from the neighbouring country.

Hernandez has also said he is in favour of peace negotiations with the National Liberation Army — the last remaining sizable rebel group — which kidnapped and killed his daughter in 2004.

He recently had to retract an expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler, explaining that he had actually meant to say "Albert Einstein."

After the polling, Hernandez put up videos of himself in a swimsuit drinking beer next to his pool at home.

Hernandez "clearly falls into the world of populism," political scientist Angela Rettberg of the University of Los Andes told AFP.

A large part of his success, she said, was in his ability to "communicate in a very simple way using colloquial language."

Hernandez "clearly falls into the world of populism," political scientist Angela Rettberg of the University of Los Andes told AFP.

A large part of his success, she said, was in his ability to "communicate in a very simple way using colloquial language."

But some reject the Trump comparison.

File image of former US president Donald Trump. AP

“This is not a hard right-wing candidate” said Will Freeman, a Princeton University scholar who specializes in Latin American politics and met with Hernandez in February for a lengthy interview.

“One of the big things he talks about is poverty, inequality and hunger. When I spoke with him he said several times that he was dismayed by the idea that people are born into poverty in Colombia and don’t have opportunities to get out of that track.”

Freeman said that during the interview, Hernandez also expressed admiration for two other Latin American leaders: Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador and El Salvador’s Nayib Bukele — both often seen as heavy-handed populists but neither of them coming from a right wing background.

With inputs from agencies

Read all the Latest NewsTrending NewsCricket NewsBollywood News,
India News and Entertainment News here. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.