BOGOTÁ, Colombia ( Associated Press) — A Colombia just emerging from the coronavirus pandemic was choosing its next president Sunday from among six candidates who promised varying degrees of change in the face of rising inequality, inflation, violence and discontent. with the status quo.
One of the candidates was former guerrilla Gustavo Petro, who could become Colombia’s first leftist president on Sunday if he gets the 50% of the votes needed to win in the first round. If no one gets more than half of the ballots, a second round will be held between the two most voted.
The polls showed Petro in the lead but below 50%. He was followed by a populist real estate tycoon who promised financial rewards for ads about corrupt officials and a conservative who has tried to distance himself from the unpopular president, the conservative Iván Duque.
It is the second presidential election since the government signed a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), but the divisive deal was not a key issue in the campaign, which focused on issues such as poverty and corruption.
It will be Petro’s third attempt to preside over the South American country. In 2018 he was defeated by Duque, who is not eligible for re-election.
His victory could usher in a new political era in a country that has always been governed by conservatives or moderates and marginalized the left due to the perceived association with the country’s armed conflict. Petro was part of the now-defunct rebel movement M-19 and obtained an amnesty after spending time in prison for his participation in the group.
He has promised significant adjustments to the economy, such as tax reform, as well as changes in Colombia’s fight against drug cartels and other armed groups. His biggest rival for much of the campaign has been Federico Gutiérrez, former mayor of Medellín, who has the support of most of Colombia’s traditional parties and based his campaign on a policy of supporting the business sector to promote the economy.
Gutiérrez has promised to fight hunger by expanding subsidies and public-private partnerships so that 10 tons of food that is wasted each year goes to the poorest.
A Gallup poll this month showed that 75% of Colombians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and just 27% support Duque. A poll conducted by Gallup last year found that 60% of those interviewed had trouble making ends meet.
Anti-poverty efforts in the country have been pushed back by at least a decade due to the coronavirus pandemic. Official figures showed that 39% of Colombia’s 51.6 million people lived on less than $89 a month last year, a slight improvement from 42.5% in 2020.
Meanwhile, the country’s inflation hit its two-decade high last month. The Duque government has said that the 9.2% rate in April is part of a global inflationary phenomenon, but the argument has not quelled discontent over rising food prices.
In addition to economic challenges, the next president of Colombia will have to deal with a complex security and corruption situation, one of the main concerns of voters.
The Red Cross concluded last year that Colombia had reached its highest level of violence in the last five years. Although the peace agreement with the FARC has been implemented, the territories and drug trafficking routes that the guerrillas controlled are now in dispute between other armed groups such as the National Liberation Army, a guerrilla founded in the 1960s, FARC dissidents and the Clan del Golfo cartel.
Duque’s successor will have to decide whether to resume peace talks with the ELN, which the president suspended in 2019 after an attack that left more than 20 dead.
Aware of voters’ concerns, real estate tycoon Rodolfo Hernández has made the issue central to his campaign. Hernández, former mayor of Bucaramanga, rose unexpectedly in the polls in the last stretch of the campaign after promising that he would cleanse the country of corruption and donate his salary, among other measures.
The other candidates were Sergio Fajardo, former mayor of Medellín and candidate of the center coalition: the Christian leader John Milton Rodríguez and the conservative Enrique Gómez.
García Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela.