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Colombians to vote for president amid generalised discontent

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA (AP) – Colombians emerging from the coronavirus pandemic will vote for their next president, choosing from six candidates who all promise various degrees of change amid rising inequality, inflation, violence and a discontent with the status quo.

The ballot includes former rebel Gustavo Petro, who could become Colombia’s first leftist president if he can get the 50 per cent of the votes needed to win in the first round.
If no one gets more than half the votes a runoff between the two top vote-getters will be held.

Pre-vote polls show Petro ahead but failing to get 50 per cent. Behind him are a populist real estate tycoon promising 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, Iván Duque.

This is the second presidential election since the government signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, but the divisive agreement was not a central campaign issue as matters like poverty and corruption garnered attention.

It will be Petro’s third attempt to be the South America’s country president. He was defeated in 2018 by Duque, who is not eligible for re-election. His victory would usher in a new political era in a country that has always been governed by conservatives or moderates while marginalising the left due to its perceived association with the nation’s armed conflict. He was once a rebel with the now-defunct M-19 movement and was granted amnesty after being jailed for his involvement with the group.

Presidential candidate Gustavo Petro of the Historical Pact coalition waves to his supporters during a campaign rally. PHOTO: AP

He has promised to make significant adjustments to the economy, including a tax reform, as well as changes to how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups. His main rival for most of the campaign has been Federico Gutiérrez, a former mayor of Medellin who is backed by most of Colombia’s traditional parties and ran on a pro-business, economic growth platform.

Gutiérrez has promised to fight hunger with the extension of subsidies and public-private alliances so that 10 tonnes of food that go to waste each year are destined for the poorest.

A Gallup poll conducted earlier this month showed that 75 per cent of Colombians believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and only 27 per cent approve of Duque. A poll last year by Gallup found 60 per cent of those questioned were finding it hard to get by on their household income.