Colombians head to the polls in the first round of presidential elections on Sunday
Colombians went to the polls on Sunday in the first presidential election since the historic peace deal was signed with the FARC rebels.
The two main contenders to succeed Nobel Peace Laureate Manuel Santos are Ivan Duque from the right wing Democratic Centre party, and Gustavo Petro from the left-wing Humane Colombia Movement.
The latest polls indicate that neither of the two frontrunners will get a 50% majority which would mean they’d face off in the second round on June 17th.
Duque is currently ahead in the polls with an estimated 40% of the vote while Petro trails him by 10 points.
Duque’s Controversial Supporter
Duque’s lead is due in part to the support from the founder of his party former president Alvaro Uribe Velez. Uribe, a fierce opponent of the peace deal is one of the most controversial and divisive figures of Colombian politics.
President from 2002 to 2010 he implemented the U.S. backed war on drugs and took a hardline militaristic approach to the conflict. While Uribe’s supporters point to the fact that drug production did indeed go down, his presidency was rocked by human rights abuse scandals. These include the infamous “false positive” scandal in which the Colombian military reportedly murdered hundreds of innocent Colombians and disguised them as rebels.
The left in uncharted territory
Petro comes from the opposite spectrum of Colombian politics, a former member of the M-19 rebel group, he did an 18-month stint in prison in the 1980s for possession of firearms. Following the peace talks that led to the dismantlement of M-19, he became an economist before a career in politics led him to serve in both chambers of parliament and as mayor of Bogota.
Analysts say that Petro’s meteoric rise in popularity, in particular with the younger sections of Colombian society fed up with the right-wing status quo, is in part due to the peace deal agreement signed with the FARC in November 2016.
“Due to the end of the most important part of the conflict, what we have is a leftist candidate being second in the polls, which is very, very unusual for Colombian politics. We have never had a political party so close to achieving victory in the elections and coming from the left" explains Sandra Borda, a political scientist at the Universidad de Los Andes.
The outcome of the election could have drastic consequences for Colombia, with two diametrically opposed visions of the country on the ballot everything from the implementation of the peace process to the economic model for the country could change.
One hot issue the next president will have to deal with is the peace negotiations with Colombia’s other major insurgent group the ELN that have been put on standby for the duration of the electoral period.