Colombians vote on Sunday in a presidential runoff that features promises of sweeping change in a country struggling with widespread poverty, violence and other woes.
After a tense campaign marked by allegations of death threats against several candidates, opinion polls place leftist Gustavo Petro and businessman Rodolfo Hernández neck and neck.
If he won, former guerrilla Petro would become Colombia’s first left-wing president.
Otherwise, the independent Hernández – a millionaire construction magnate and former mayor of the northern city of Bucaramanga – will have the chance to keep his promise to rid the country of the “thieves” and the “bureaucracy” he accuses of corruption Politics .
The only certainty is that whoever wins the new vice-president will be a woman of African descent. It will be environmental activist Francia Márquez, 40, if Petro wins or conservative academic Marelen Castillo, 53, if Hernández wins.
Former Bogotá mayor Petro was very clear in last month’s first round with 40% over Hernández, who jumped out of nowhere to finish with 28% and eliminate right-wing establishment candidate Federico Gutiérrez.
But the results of the first round are misleading, say analysts, who say it was an “anti-establishment” vote to rebuke political elites.
Petro’s proposed “change” and Hernández’s vow to fight corruption struck a chord with voters and left both conservative and liberal powers in the doldrums.
Whoever wins will have to tackle 39% poverty and 11% unemployment.
“Both are also uncertain and risky (candidates) because they have been impulsive in making decisions,” said Germán Prieto, a political scientist at Javeriana University.
The past four years under President Iván Duque – who is constitutionally barred from running again – have been a disappointment.
He will leave office with low popularity after a four-year term marked by the coronavirus pandemic, recession, mass anti-government protests brutally suppressed by security forces and a rise in violence linked to criminal gangs involved in drug trafficking as the world’s largest producer of cocaine.
Colombia is a country often described as a volcano on the verge of eruption.
Progressive Petro has promised to strengthen the state apparatus, raise taxes on the rich and accelerate the green energy transition.
Hernández has made superficial and surprising commitments, such as getting rid of the fleet of cars used by government officials or legalizing marijuana.
However, questions remain about everyone’s ability to govern.
Petro would likely face defiant elites — possibly including the military — determined to thwart him, while Hernández would be almost without allies in Congress. And while portraying himself as a champion in the fight against corruption, he himself faces a bribery trial next month over the award of a public works contract to a company linked to his son during his town hall in Bucaramanga.
Petro has faced leaked recordings of his campaign team discussing how to ‘discredit’ opponents, including using defamation – an embarrassment for the candidate who promised during the campaign trail that he would carry out a ‘political of love”.
“The path leading to this presidency has been nothing but belligerent attacks, scandals, dubious support, spies, infiltrations, denunciations and death threats, among others”, writes the major daily. The Spectador.
Petro questioned the software used in the presidential vote count following errors during the March legislative elections.
“We don’t have any guarantees that we’ll be able to tell people it’s reliable,” he said earlier this week.
These “doubts” were added to the “challenge of the second round with a result that was too close… in a context of extreme aggression”, added The Spectador.
For a diplomatic source, the close race of the razor is “the worst scenario” and means that there is “a risk of outbreak and violence” after the announcement of the results.
The last time a president was narrowly elected – Misael Pastrana in 1970 – accusations of fraud and the frustrations of many voters led to the creation of a new urban guerrilla movement.
Another tight result “could cause a social problem with consequences on the streets,” said Luisa Lozano, a political scientist at La Sabana University.
Lozano is particularly wary of “some Petro supporters” in the event of a defeat.
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