By Astrid Suarez and Regina García Cano
BOGOTA, Colombia ( Associated Press) – Early vote counting in Colombia’s six-way presidential election on Sunday pointed to a runoff in June, with former left-wing rebel Gustavo Petro leading in a ballot amid rising inequality and rising discontent over inflation. .
Election officials said Sunday evening that Petro, a senator and a frontrunner throughout the campaign, had just 41% of the vote and was behind Rodolfo Hernandez, who had 28%, two-thirds of the ballots counted.
Petro needed 50% of the total votes to avoid a run-off election against a second-place finisher. The anti-incumbency candidate has promised to make significant adjustments to the economy, including tax reform, and to change how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups.
It was the second presidential election in 2016 since the government signed a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known in Spanish as FARC for its initials. But divisive settlement was not a main issue during the campaign as challenges posed by the pandemic, including poverty and inflation, attracted attention.
The candidates also focused on the escalating violence affecting the country, which in 2021 was driven by the Red Cross to its highest level in five years. Although a peace settlement is underway, the areas controlled by the FARC and the routes of drug trafficking are in dispute between other armed groups such as the National Liberation Army (ELN), a guerrilla founded in the 1960s, FARC dissidents, and other armed groups. . Clan del Golfo Cartel.
Their defenses increased significantly after Petro and his running mate Francia Marquez condemned the threats against them. Around 10 bodyguards rescued him several times with shields.
Petro’s main rival for most of the campaign was Federico Gutierrez, the former mayor of Medellin, who was supported by most of Colombia’s traditional parties and ran on a pro-business, economic development platform.
But Hernandez, a populist real estate tycoon, kept climbing the polls. He has little ties to political parties and promised to cut wasteful government spending and offer rewards for those who report corrupt officials.
This is a breaking news update. Below is an earlier story from Associated Press.
BOGOTA, Colombia ( Associated Press) — Colombians emerging from the coronavirus pandemic voted for a new president on Sunday, choosing from six candidates who have parted ways amid rising inequality, inflation, violence and dissatisfaction with the status quo. Change was promised.
Former rebel Gustavo Petro, who led opinion polls, could become Colombia’s first leftist president. But those polls also indicated that he would probably fall short of the 50% of the votes needed to win the first round and avoid a runoff against a second-place finisher.
Behind him was a populist real estate tycoon who promised monetary rewards for suggestions from corrupt officials and a right-wing candidate who tried to distance himself from the widely disliked conservative current president, Ivan Duque.
“The main problem in the country is the inequality of conditions, the work is not well paid,” said Jenny Bello, who sells coffee near a long line of voters under a distinctive cloud in the capital of Bogota. For months without work due to the pandemic, she had to resort to informal sales.
A Petro victory would add to a series of leftist political victories in Latin America as people seek change at a time of discontent with the economic situation. Chile, Peru and Honduras elected left-wing presidents in 2021, and in Brazil, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the election for this year’s presidential election. Mexico was elected the leftist president in 2018.
This is the second presidential election in Colombia – the third most populous country in Latin America – since the government signed a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC. But the divisive settlement was not a central campaign issue, with poverty and corruption gaining more attention.
Election Day went off peacefully for the most part across the country. In the south-central state of Guaviare, three explosions were carried out in rural areas not far from polling stations, leaving a soldier with shrapnel wounds, Defense Minister Diego Molano said, adding that FARC dissident groups were allegedly responsible . Naxalites are active in the area.
Meanwhile, dozens of Colombians who wanted to return to their home countries to vote faced difficulties at the border with Venezuela. The non-governmental group Colombian Electoral Observation Mission complained that “the Venezuelan Guard blocked the passage of Colombians on the border bridges”.
Immigration officials in Colombia said a deal calls for allowing Colombians to vote at border consulates to enter their homeland.
Petro has said he will resume diplomatic ties with the government of Nicolas Maduro, which had broken up with the duke since 2019.
This is Petro’s third attempt to become the President of the country of South America. He was defeated in 2018 by Duke, who was not eligible for re-election.
A victory for Petro would herald a new political era in a country that has always been ruled by conservatives or moderates, while leftists are marginalized because of their perceived involvement with the country’s armed struggle. He was once a rebel with the now-defunct M-19 movement and was granted amnesty after being imprisoned for his involvement with the group.
He has promised to make significant adjustments to the economy, including tax reform, as well as changes to the way he fights the Colombian drug cartel and other armed groups. His main rival for much of the campaign has been Federico Gutierrez, the former mayor of Medellin, who is backed by most of Colombia’s traditional parties and runs on a pro-business, economic development platform.
Gutierrez promises to fight hunger with subsidies and expanding public-private alliances so that food that would otherwise go to waste is destined for the poorest.
A Gallup poll conducted earlier this month showed that 75% of Colombians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and only 27% approve of Duque. A survey conducted by Gallup last year found that 60% of those questioned were having a hard time with their income.
The coronavirus pandemic set back the country’s anti-poverty efforts by at least a decade. Official data showed that 39% of Colombia’s 51.6 million residents lived on less than $89 a month last year, a slight improvement from the 42.5% rate in 2020.
Meanwhile, the country’s inflation reached the highest level of two decades last month. Duke’s administration has justified the April rate of 9.2% for April by saying it is part of a global inflation phenomenon, but the argument has not dampened discontent over the rise in food prices.
Juan David Gonzalez, 28, said: “The vote is what transforms the country and I think that responsibility falls heavily on young people who want to reach the standards that allow us to live a decent life.” presidential election.
In addition to economic challenges, Colombia’s next president will also face a complex security issue and corruption, which are voters’ top concerns.
The Red Cross concluded last year that Colombia had reached its highest level of violence in the past five years. Although peace agreements with the FARC have been implemented, areas and drug-trafficking routes once controlled by other armed groups, such as the National Liberation Army, or ELN, a guerrilla established in the 1960s, have been formed by FARC dissidents and activists. are in dispute between Gulf Clan Cartel.
The Duke’s successor will have to decide whether to resume peace talks with the ELN, which he suspended in 2019 after an attack killed more than 20 people.
Aware of voters’ corruption concerns, real estate tycoon Rodolfo Hernandez has put the issue at the center of his campaign. Hernandez, the former mayor of Bucaramanga, rose to a surprise end of the campaign after promising to “clean” the country of corruption and donate his salary.
The other candidates on the ballot are Sergio Fajardo, the former mayor of Medellin and the candidate of the Center Coalition; Christian leader John Milton Rodriguez and conservative Enrique Gomez.
García Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela.