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Americas

Right-winger Ivan Duque to face leftist Gustavo Petro in Colombia’s presidential run-off

Petro has a chance to become the first leftist president in traditionally conservative Colombia

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 12:58pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 May, 2018, 10:20pm

Right-wing candidate Ivan Duque came in first in Colombia’s presidential elections on Sunday, but did not receive enough votes to avoid a run-off against Gustavo Petro, who achieved a historic result for a leftist contender.

Duque had 39.1 per cent and Petro 25.1 per cent of the vote when nearly all votes had been counted in the elections focusing on the future of the peace process with the former guerilla movement FARC.

Centrist Sergio Fajardo came in third with 23.7 per cent and conservative candidate German Vargas Lleras was in fourth with 7.3 per cent, according to official results aired by commercial broadcaster Caracol.

“We are moving forward with a firm and constant step, always forward … You can be certain that we shall win,” Petro said.

He pledged to build a “more equal society” based on state-sponsored universal education and the expansion of the middle class.

Duque pledged to conduct “decent politics” and toughen penalties against corruption.

Many of Fajardo’s voters are expected to vote for Petro and many of Vargas Lleras’ voters for Duque in the run-off scheduled for June 17.

The second round was therefore seen as a close contest, with Petro having the chance of becoming the first leftist president of the traditionally conservative country.

Neither Fajardo nor Vargas Lleras, however, instructed their voters on who to vote for in the second round.

The elections centred around the 2016 peace deal that outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos struck with FARC, Latin America’s oldest guerilla movement, to end a conflict lasting half a century.

Petro’s victory would guarantee continuity of the peace process, while Duque has pledged to modify it, sparking concern that many of the 7,000 demobilised FARC fighters might join smaller armed groups.

“We don’t want to tear the agreements to pieces,” Duque said on Sunday.

“What we want is to make it clear that the Colombia of peace will have justice,” added the candidate, who has criticised the post-conflict transitional justice system as not sufficiently punishing FARC fighters for their crimes.

“Colombia wants peace,” FARC leader Rodrigo Londono said after casting his ballot at a polling station south of Bogota. The former guerilla now heading a political party called FARC voted in elections for the first time.

Colombia’s 52-year conflict involving several leftist rebel groups, the army and right-wing paramilitary groups claimed at least 220,000 lives and displaced 7 million people.

Armed groups still remain active, including Colombia’s last officially existing guerilla group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), whose ongoing peace talks with the government have come under criticism from Duque.

Petro, a former member of the now defunct guerilla group M-19 and erstwhile Bogota mayor, has pledged state-sponsored universal health care and an economic shift from oil toward agriculture.

Duque, who has the backing of hawkish former president Alvaro Uribe, promised to crack down on armed groups. He has also kept warning that a leftist victory would turn Colombia into another Venezuela, which is suffering a severe economic crisis.

Petro rejected allegations that he represented a “Castro-Chavist” ideology following the examples of Cuba and Venezuela, saying he did not want to nationalise means of production. “That is a lie,” he said on Sunday.

Santos, who won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to seal peace with FARC, was barred by the constitution from seeking a third term in office.