Colombia’s presidential race headed to run-off between leftist senator, populist businessman

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Colombians will make a choice for president between a leftist senator and a populist businessman in a run-off contest in June after none of the six candidates in Sunday’s first round got 50 per cent of the vote.

Leftist Sen. Gustavo Petro led Sunday’s results with just over 40 per cent of the votes, while independent real estate tycoon Rodolfo Hernandez finished second with more than 28 per cent, election authorities said Sunday evening. A candidate needed 50 per cent of the total votes to win outright and the run-off election.

Voters in the South American country went to the polls amid a polarized environment and growing discontent over increasing inequality and inflation.

Petro has promised to make significant adjustments to the economy, including tax reform, and to change how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups.

Hernandez has few connections to political parties and promises to reduce wasteful government spending and to offer rewards for people who report corrupt officials.

People cast their votes in Bogota on Sunday. Voters in Colombia went to the polls amid a polarized environment and growing discontent over increasing inequality and inflation. (Vannessa Jimenez/Reuters)

A victory for Petro would usher in a new political era in a country that has always been governed by conservatives or moderates while marginalizing the left due to its perceived association with the nation’s armed conflict. He was once a rebel with the now-defunct M-19 movement and was granted amnesty after being jailed for his involvement with the group.

This was the second presidential election held since the government signed in 2016 a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC for its initials in Spanish. But the divisive agreement was not a main issue during the campaign, which focused on poverty, inflation and other challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.

Candidates also focused on increasing violence, which the Red Cross in 2021 concluded reached its highest level in five years. Although the peace agreement is being implemented, territories and drug trafficking routes once controlled by the FARC are in dispute between other armed groups such as the National Liberation Army, a guerrilla group founded in the 1960s, FARC dissidents and the Clan del Golfo cartel.

Petro and his running mate, Francia Marquez, upped their security significantly after they denounced threats against them. About 10 bodyguards escorted them with shields at times.



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