Former leftist rebel Gustavo Petro wins Colombia’s presidency in historic close election | CBC News

Former guerrilla Gustavo Petro narrowly won the runoff election over a millionaire political outcast on Sunday, ushering in a new political era for Colombia by becoming the country’s first leftist president.

Petro, a senator in his third attempt to win the presidency, got 50.47 percent of the vote, while real estate tycoon Rodolfo Hernandez got 47.27 percent, with almost all votes counted, according to results released. by the electoral authorities.

Petro’s victory underscored a drastic change in presidential politics in a country that has long marginalized the left because of its perceived association with armed conflict.

“Today is a day of celebration for the people. May they celebrate the first popular victory,” Petro tweeted. “May so many sufferings be cushioned in the joy that today floods the heart of the Homeland.”

Petro was once a rebel of the now-defunct M-19 movement and was granted amnesty after being jailed for his involvement with the group.

Confetti falls on Petro’s election night venue in Bogotá on Sunday. (Fernando Vergara/The Associated Press)

At its headquarters in the capital city of Bogotá, a message on a screen read “Thank you Colombia” or “Thank you Colombia.”

Outgoing Conservative President Iván Duque congratulated Petro shortly after the results were announced, and Hernández was quick to concede defeat.

“I accept the result, as it should be, if we want our institutions to be firm,” Hernández said in a video on social media. “I sincerely hope that this decision will be beneficial to all.”

‘People are fed up’

The vote came amid widespread discontent over rising inequality, inflation and violence, factors that led first-round voters to turn their backs on long-ruling centrist and right-wing politicians. time and chose two outsiders in the third most populous nation in Latin America.

Petro’s performance was the latest political victory for the left in Latin America fueled by voters’ desire for change. Chile, Peru and Honduras all elected leftist presidents in 2021, and in Brazil, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the polls for this year’s presidential election.

About 21.6 million of the 39 million eligible voters cast ballots on Sunday. Abstentionism has been above 40% in all presidential elections since 1990.

Petro supporters celebrate in Bogotá on Sunday. (Fernando Vergara/The Associated Press)

Petro, 62, will be officially declared the winner after a formal count that will take a few days. Historically, preliminary results have coincided with final ones.

Polls before the second round indicated that Petro and Hernandez, both former mayors, had been in a close race since beating four other candidates in the initial elections on May 29, although neither received enough votes to win outright and headed to the second round.

Petro has proposed ambitious pension, tax, health and agriculture reforms and changes to the way Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups.

A voter casts his ballot in Bogotá on Sunday. (Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images)

He got 40 percent of the vote during last month’s elections and Hernandez 28 percent, but the difference quickly narrowed as Hernandez began to attract so-called anti-Petrista voters.

Petro will find it difficult to keep his promises as he does not have a majority in Congress, which is key to carrying out the reforms. In the last legislative elections, Petro’s political movement won 20 seats in the Senate, a plurality, but would still have to make concessions in negotiations with other parties.

Hernández, who made his fortune in real estate, is not affiliated with any major political party and has rejected alliances. His austere campaign, carried out mainly on TikTok and other social media platforms, was self-financed and based mainly on the fight against corruption, which he blames for poverty and the loss of state resources that could be used for social programs.

Presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernández leaves after casting his vote at a polling station in Bucaramanga on Sunday. (Santiago Arcos/Reuters)

Hernandez resurfaced late in the first-round campaign, beating more conventional candidates and surprising many when he finished second. He has faced controversy, such as saying that he admired Adolf Hitler before apologizing and saying that he was referring to Albert Einstein.

Polls say most Colombians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and disapprove of Duque, who was ineligible to seek re-election. The pandemic set back the country’s anti-poverty efforts by at least a decade. Official figures show that 39 percent of Colombians lived on less than US$89 a month last year.

The rejection of politics as usual “is a reflection that people are fed up with the same old people,” said Nataly Amezquita, a 26-year-old civil engineer who hopes to vote. “We have to generate greater social change. A lot of people in the country are not in the best condition.”

People look at a screen showing the preliminary results of the elections in Medellin on Sunday. (Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP/Getty Images)

But even the two outside candidates left her cold. She said that she would cast a blank vote: “I don’t like either of the two candidates… I don’t think either of them is a good person.”

Silvia Otero Bahamon, professor of Political Science at the Universidad del Rosario, said that although both candidates are populists who “have an ideology based on the division between the corrupt elite and the people,” each sees their fight against the establishment differently. .

“Petro relates to the poor, the ethnic and cultural minorities of the most peripheral regions of the nation,” Otero said, while Hernández’s supporters “are the people who have been defrauded by politics and corruption. It is a community looser, that the candidate arrives directly through social networks”.

Many voters based their decision on what they don’t want, rather than what they do want.

“Many people said: ‘I don’t care who is against Petro, I am going to vote for whoever represents the other candidate, no matter who that person is,'” said Silvana Amaya, a senior analyst at firm Control. Risks. “That also works the other way around. Rodolfo has been portrayed as this crazy old man, communication genius and flamboyant character (so) that some people say: ‘I don’t care who I have to vote for, but I don’t want him to be my president.’

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