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Narrow Colombian runoff against former rebel and millionaire

BOGOTA – Colombia voters on Sunday will choose between a former rebel and an unpredictable millionaire when they vote in a presidential election that promises to transform the country after a first-round election that punished the political class.

Polls show that leftist Gustavo Petro and outsider Rodolfo Hernández – both former mayors – have been practically neck and neck since they led four other candidates in the first May 29 election, with neither garnering enough votes to outright win what forced the runoff. Some 39 million people are eligible to vote on Sunday, but abstention has exceeded 40% in every presidential election since 1990.

Colombians are voting amid widespread discontent over rising inequality, inflation and violence. The dissatisfaction with the situation in the country is so great that the voters turned their backs on the longstanding middle-class and right-wing politician in the first ballot and voted for two outsiders.

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Petro, a 62-year-old senator, is in his third presidential campaign. A Petro victory would end long-standing voter marginalization of the left, allegedly linked to the country’s armed conflict. Once a rebel in the now-defunct M-19 movement, Petro was granted amnesty after being jailed for his involvement with the group.

He has proposed ambitious pension, tax, healthcare and agrarian reforms, as well as changes in how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups. He got 40% of the vote and Hernández 28% in last month’s elections, but the gap narrowed quickly when Hernández began garnering so-called anti-Petrista votes.

Petro could become the latest political victory for the left in Latin America, fueled by voters’ desire for change. Chile, Peru and Honduras will be elected left-wing presidents in 2021, and in Brazil, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the polls for this year’s presidential election.

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The 77-year-old Hernández, who made his living from real estate, does not belong to any major political party and rejects alliances. His rigorous campaign, conducted mostly on TikTok and other social media platforms, was self-funded.

His proposals are based on fighting corruption, which he blames for poverty and the loss of government funds that could be used for social programs. He wants to downsize the government by eliminating various embassies and presidential offices, turning the presidential palace into a museum, and reducing the use of the president’s aircraft fleet.

Hernández stormed past more conventional candidates late in the first lap and shocked many when he finished second. He faced controversy, including saying he admired Adolf Hitler and then apologizing for wanting to refer to Albert Einstein.

Silvia Otero Bahamón, a professor of political science at the Universidad del Rosario, said that while both candidates are populists who “have an ideology based on the division between the corrupt elite and the people,” each has a different anti-establishment approach see.

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“Petro refers to the poor, the ethnic and cultural minorities of the nation’s most peripheral regions, who are finally being considered and invited to participate in democracy,” Otero said. While Hernández’s supporters “are more ethereal, they are the people who have been let down by politics and corruption. It’s a looser community that the candidate reaches directly through social media.”

Polls show that the vast majority of Colombians believe the country is moving in the wrong direction and disapprove of President Iván Duque, who did not stand for re-election. The pandemic has set back the country’s poverty reduction efforts by at least a decade. Official figures show that 39% of Colombians lived on less than $89 a month last year, a slight improvement from 42.5% in 2020.

The impending departure from traditional presidential politics has raised fears in some in this conservative, predominantly Roman Catholic country. Many base their decision on what they don’t want rather than what they do want.

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“A lot of people said, ‘I don’t care who is against Petro, I will vote for whoever represents the other candidate, regardless of who that person is,'” said Silvana Amaya, a senior analyst at Control Risks . “It also works the other way around. Rodolfo was portrayed as this crazy old man, communication genius and flamboyant figure that some people say, ‘I don’t care who I have to vote for, but I don’t want him to be my President.’”

Both men will find it difficult to keep their promises as neither has a majority in Congress, which is key to enacting reforms.

In the recent general election, Petro’s political movement won 20 seats in the Senate, a relative majority, but he has yet to make concessions in negotiations with other parties. Hernández’s political movement has only two representatives in the House of Commons, so he would also have to deal with lawmakers whom he has alienated by repeatedly labeling them “thieves”.

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Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/world/2022/06/19/tight-colombian-runoff-pits-former-rebel-millionaire/ Narrow Colombian runoff against former rebel and millionaire

Sarah Y. Kim

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