Leftist Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla movement who promised profound social and economic change, won Colombia’s presidency on Sunday, the first progressive to do so in the country’s history.
Petro beat construction magnate Rodolfo Hernandez by an unexpectedly wide margin of about 716,890 votes. The two were equal in voting before the vote.
Petro, a former mayor of the capital, Bogota, and current senator, has vowed to fight inequality with free university education, pension reforms and high taxes on unproductive land. He won 50.5% to Hernandez’s 47.3%.
Petro’s proposals – in particular a ban on new oil projects – have frightened some investors, although he has promised to respect current contracts.
Supporter Alejandro Forero, 40, who uses a wheelchair, cried as the results rolled in at the Petro campaign celebration in Bogota.
“Finally, thank God. I know he will be a good president and he will help those of us who are least privileged. That is going to change for the better,” said Forero, who is unemployed.
This campaign was Petro’s third presidential bid, and his victory adds the Andean nation to a list of Latin American countries that have favored progressives in recent years.
Petro, 62, said he was tortured by the military when he was detained for his involvement in the guerrillas, and his potential victory prepared high-ranking armed forces officials for change.
Petro’s running mate Francia Marquez, a single and former housekeeper, will be the country’s first Afro-Colombian women’s vice president.
“Today I am voting for my daughter – she turned 15 two weeks ago and asked for only one gift: that I vote for Petro,” security guard Pedro Vargas, 48, said Sunday morning in Bogota’s southwestern district.
“I hope this man fulfills the hope of my daughter, she has a lot of faith in his promises,” added Vargas, who said he never voted.
Petro also undertook to fully implement a 2016 peace agreement with FARC rebels and seek talks with the still-active ELN guerrillas.
He raised doubts about the integrity of the count after irregularities in congressional polls in March, and earlier Sunday urged voters to check their ballots for any strange points that could invalidate them.
Hernandez, who served as mayor of Bucaramanga, was a surprise rival in the run-up and promised to downsize the government and fund social programs by stopping corruption.
He also undertook to provide free drugs to addicts to combat drug trafficking.
Despite his rhetoric against-graft, Hernandez himself is under a corruption investigation into allegations that he intervened in a trash management issue to favor a company his son advocated for. He denied injustice.
Defense Minister Diego Molano told reporters on Sunday afternoon that the murder of an election volunteer in Guapi, Cauca province, was being investigated.
Sixty polling stations had to be relocated due to heavy rains in some parts of the country, the registrar said.