Leftist Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla movement that promised profound social and economic change, won the presidency of Colombia on Sunday, the first progressive to do so in the country’s history.
Petro defeated construction magnate Rodolfo Hernandez by an unexpectedly large margin of about 716,890 votes. The two were tied in the polls before the vote.
Petro, a former mayor of the capital Bogota and a current senator, has vowed to fight inequality with free university education, pension reforms and high taxes on unproductive land. He won 50.5 percent, and Hernandez won 47.3 percent.
Peter’s proposals – especially a ban on new oil projects – stunned some investors, although he promised to honor existing agreements.
Fan Alejandro Forero, 40, who uses a wheelchair, cried while the results were being received at the celebration of Peter’s campaign in Bogota.
“Finally, thank God. I know he will be a good president and he will help us who are the least privileged. This will change for the better,” said Forero, who is unemployed.
This campaign was Peter’s third presidential candidacy, and his victory adds the Andean nation to the list of Latin American countries that have elected progressives in recent years.
Petro, 62, said he was tortured by the military when he was detained for involvement with guerrillas, and his potential victory led high-ranking armed forces officials to prepare for change.
Peter’s vice president, Francia Marquez, a single mother and former housewife, will be the first vice president of the Afro-Colombian country.
“Today I am voting for my daughter – she turned 15 two weeks ago and asked for only one gift: to vote for Petra,” said guard Pedro Vargas, 48, in the southwestern district of Bogota on Sunday morning.
“I hope that this man will fulfill my daughter’s hopes, she has a lot of confidence in his promises,” added Vargas, who said he would never vote.
Petro also pledged to fully implement the 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels and seek talks with ELN’s still active guerrillas.
He questioned the integrity of the count after irregularities in congressional results in March, and earlier Sunday called on voters to check their ballots for any foreign labels that could invalidate them.
Hernandez, who was the mayor of Bucaramanga, was a surprise candidate in the second round and promised to reduce the government and finance social programs by stopping corruption.
He also pledged to provide narcotics free of charge to drug addicts.
Despite his anti-corruption rhetoric, Hernandez himself is under investigation for corruption over allegations that he intervened in the waste management problem to be useful to the company his son lobbied for. He denied injustice.
Defense Minister Diego Molano told reporters on Sunday afternoon that the murder of an election volunteer in Guapi, in the province of Cauca, is under investigation.
Sixty polling stations had to be relocated due to heavy rains in certain parts of the country, the registrar said.