Colombia heads for presidential election runoff — Analysis

Leftist Gustavo Petro led the field in Sunday’s first round, but didn’t get the 50% of votes needed to win outright

Colombia’s presidential race will have to be decided in a runoff next month after none of the six candidates in Sunday’s election was able to secure the necessary 50% of votes to avert a one-on-one showdown.

Leftist Gustavo Petro was a former Guerilla leader who entered politics when his rebel group disarm. Rodolfo Sanchez, a 77 year-old construction mogul, won the first round. 

According to preliminary counts, Petro won about 40% of Sunday’s votes. Hernandez was second with 28%. Federico Gutierrez was the former mayor of Medellin. His right-wing cabinet has been closely tied to Ivan Duque. Hernandez came in second with 28%.

Petro, who has vowed to end petroleum exploration in the country and redistribute pension funds, will become the first leftist president in Colombia’s history if he wins the June runoff. Hernandez is a fighter against corruption and has promised to eliminate wasteful spending by the government.

The 62-year-old Petro, who served in Colombia’s Congress and was elected mayor of Bogota in 2011, ramped up security in recent weeks and campaigned behind bulletproof shields after allegedly receiving death threats. In the past, Colombia has seen a variety of left-wing candidates being assassinated. Carlos Pizarro, top commander of Petro’s M-19 rebel group, was killed by an anti-communist gunman while running for president in 1990. The leftist candidate Bernardo Jaramillo was also killed in that same year.

Backed by a younger progressive constituency, Petro is loathed by the country’s right-wing incumbent government of Duque. Critics insist that  Petro will turn Colombia into its socialist (and sanctions-starved) neighbor Venezuela. Although Petro was defeated by Duque in 2018’s election, US-allied Bogota had a poor four year. This is due to their response to Covid-19, an epidemic that exacerbated already existing economic problems caused in part by the crackdown on protests against inequality and corruption.

Petro’s running mate, vice presidential candidate Francia Marquez, earlier this month accused President Joe Biden’s administration of interfering in Colombia’s election by making false accusations that Russia and Venezuela were meddling in the race.

Biden signed also a memorandum declaring Colombia an ally, less than a week before the polls. “major non-NATO ally”Washington pledged to Colombian soldiers to de-mining training for Ukrainian soldiers. Although the status grants economic privileges as well as defense contracts, it doesn’t explicitly provide defense guarantees like NATO membership.

US confirms new ‘major non-NATO ally’

Maria Elvira Salazar, a US Congresswoman (R-Florida), called for Biden’s resignation. interveneIf necessary, to stop Petro becoming President. “Gustavo Petro is a thief, a Marxist and a terrorist,”On Friday, she spoke. “And he wants to be the next president of Colombia, to lead Colombians into misery, hunger and exile. Colombia, be careful. Today’s decisions determine tomorrow.”

According to the Red Cross, violence in Colombia has risen since 2016 when the government reached a peace deal with FARC rebels. Petro has been critical of the US-led war on drugs, saying massive security spending hasn’t stopped Colombia from remaining a top cocaine producer or ended gang violence. Also, he suggested Colombia should reconsider its policy of exchanging drug kingpins to America.

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