Colombia’s election stations opened for voting in a presidential race stuffed with uncertainty as former insurgent Gustavo Petro and millionaire businessman Rodolfo Hernandez compete for energy in a rustic saddled with widespread poverty, violence and different woes.
Abstention is predicted to be excessive on Sunday as voters face a stark selection between electing their first-ever left-wing president or a maverick outsider dubbed the Colombian Donald Trump.
In Bogota, outgoing President Ivan Duque opened voting for Colombia’s 39 million voters at 8am (13:00 GMT). Polls will shut at 4pm with early outcomes anticipated a few hours after that.
Hernandez was among the many early voters within the northern metropolis of Bucaramanga, the place he was mayor from 2016 to 2019.
It has been a tense marketing campaign, with loss of life threats in opposition to a number of candidates forward of the primary spherical final month, when Colombia’s conventional conservative and liberal powers had been dealt a chastening defeat.
“These are the tightest elections within the nation’s latest historical past,” mentioned the Sunday version of the El Tiempo day by day.
There are fears a decent outcome might spark post-election violence and 320,000 police and army have been deployed to make sure safety.
Michael Shifter, from the Inter-American Dialogue think-tank, mentioned voters “try to determine who’s the lesser of two evils”.
The successor to unpopular conservative Duque should cope with a rustic in disaster, reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, recession, a spike in drug-trafficking-related violence and deep-rooted anger on the political institution.
Virtually 40 p.c of the nation lives in poverty whereas 11 p.c are unemployed.
Colombians’ anger spilled over into mass anti-government protests in April 2021 that had been controversially met by a heavy-handed response from the safety forces.
Opinion polls within the lead-up to the election have been inconclusive, though abstention is predicted to be 45 p.c with as much as one other 5 p.c undecided.
Petro comfortably topped the primary spherical of voting with 40 p.c, 12 factors forward of Hernandez.
Nevertheless, Petro’s previous as a radical leftist city fighter within the Eighties – throughout which period he spent two years in jail on arms fees – has left many Colombians fearful.
He has been in politics since his M-19 group made peace with the state in 1990 and fashioned a political social gathering.
Some say the previous mayor of Bogota would flip Colombia into one other authoritarian populist socialist state like neighbouring Venezuela.
Petro, 62, says the nation wants social justice to construct peace after a six-decade multi-faceted battle involving leftist rebels, the state, right-wing paramilitaries and drug cartels.
Petro, who’s in style with many younger individuals, named environmentalist feminist Francia Marquez, 40, as his working mate.
His might grow to be the newest leftist political victory in Latin America fuelled by voters’ want for change. Chile, Peru and Honduras elected leftist presidents in 2021, and in Brazil, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is main the polls for this yr’s presidential election.
‘Dialogue and agreements wanted’
Only a few months in the past, Hernandez, 77, was a digital unknown outdoors of Bucaramanga. His austere marketing campaign, waged totally on TikTok and different social media platforms, was self-financed.
However his unconventional insurance policies and a collection of gaffes, not least when he seemingly mistook Adolf Hitler for Albert Einstein in a radio interview, have caught consideration.
Though he additionally named a lady, tutorial Marelen Castillo, 53, as his working mate, he lately mentioned a lady’s place was within the residence.
However it’s his lack of political expertise or a programme that worries many.
“As a businessman he’s used to resolving conflicts in a direct and fast means, however the train of governance requires dialogue, agreements, [and] lengthy conferences to search out widespread floor,” mentioned Patricia Ines Munoz, an professional on the Pontifical Javerian College.
That’s one thing he should do if elected, given he has nearly no illustration in congress.
What has attracted voters to Hernandez has been his anti-corruption stance – though he faces a corruption investigation of his personal from his mayorship.
“Between theft, luxurious and waste, a billion per week disappears, we’ll put an finish to that from day one,” he mentioned.
Silvia Otero Bahamón, a political science professor on the College of Rosario, mentioned though each candidates are populists who “have an ideology based mostly on the division between the corrupt elite and the individuals”, every sees their combat in opposition to the institution otherwise.
“Petro pertains to the poor, the ethnic and cultural minorities of probably the most peripheral areas of the nation,” Otero mentioned, whereas Hernández’s supporters are “extra ethereal; they’re the individuals who have been let down by politicking and corruption. It’s a looser neighborhood, which the candidate reaches instantly through social networks.”