Colombians emerging from the coronavirus pandemic were voting on Sunday for their next president, choosing from six candidates who promise varying degrees of change amid rising inequality, inflation, violence and dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Former rebel Gustavo Petro, who is leading the election, could become Colombia’s first leftist president. But those polls see him falling short of the 50% of the votes needed to win the first round and avoid a runoff against a second-place finisher.
Behind him is a populist real estate tycoon who promises monetary rewards for tips on corrupt officials and a right-wing candidate who has 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 paid well,” said 32-year-old Jenny Bello, a coffee seller near a long line of voters under a distinctive cloudy sky 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, 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 as issues such as poverty and corruption attracted more attention.
This is Petro’s third attempt to become the President of the country of South America. He was defeated in 2018 by Duke, who is not eligible for re-election.
His victory would herald a new political era in a country that has always been ruled by conservatives or moderates, while marginalizing the Left because of its perceived association 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 a change in 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 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 April’s rate of 9.2% by saying it was part of a global inflation phenomenon, but the argument has not dampened discontent over rising food prices.
Juan David Gonzalez, 28, said after voting for the second time, “The vote is about changing the country and I think that responsibility falls too much on young people who want to reach the standards that we need to live a decent life.” allow.” 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 unit established in the 1960s, are based on FARC dissidents and 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. Hernández, the former mayor of Bucaramanga, rose by surprise at the campaign’s final stage after promising to “clean” the country of corruption and donate his salary.
The other candidates on the ballot are Sergio Fajardo, former mayor of Medellin and candidates for the Center Coalition – Christian leader John Milton Rodriguez and conservative Enrique Gómez.
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