Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M-19 rebel movement who has promised profound social and economic change, has won Colombia’s presidency, beating the construction magnate Rodolfo Hernandez. Petro won 50.5 percent of the vote to Hernandez’s 47.3 percent on Sunday, with a margin of more than 700,000 votes. The two had been technically tied in polling ahead of the vote.
Petro, a former mayor of capital Bogota and current senator, has pledged to fight inequality with free university education, pension reforms and high taxes on unproductive land. His proposals – including a ban on new oil projects – have startled some investors, though he has promised to respect current contracts.
Petro, 62, lauded the “first popular victory” in a social media post. “Today is a celebration for the people. Let’s celebrate the first popular victory,” he wrote on Twitter.
Hernandez conceded defeat shortly afterwards.
“Colombians, today the majority of citizens have chosen the other candidate. As I said during the campaign, I accept the results of this election,” Hernandez said in a video on social media.
As results rolled in at the Petro campaign celebration in Bogota, supporter Alejandro Forero, 40, cried. “Finally, thank God. I know he will be a good president and he will help those of us who are least privileged. This is going to change for the better,” said Forero, who is unemployed.
This campaign was Petro’s third presidential bid and his victory adds the Andean nation to a list of Latin American countries that have elected progressives in recent years. Petro’s running mate Francia Marquez, a single mother and former housekeeper, will be the country’s first Afro-Colombian female vice president.
“Today I’m voting for my daughter – she turned 15 two weeks ago and asked for just one gift: that I vote for Petro,” said security guard Pedro Vargas, 48, in Bogota’s southwest on Sunday morning. “I hope this man fulfils the hopes of my daughter, she has a lot of faith in his promises,” added Vargas, who said he does not usually vote.
Petro has also pledged to fully implement a 2016 peace deal with FARC rebels and seek talks with the still-active ELN rebels.
He had raised doubts about the integrity of the count after irregularities in congressional tallies in March and, earlier on Sunday, urged voters to check their ballots for any extraneous marks which could invalidate them.
Hernandez, who served as mayor of Bucaramanga, was a surprise contender in the runoff and had promised to shrink government and finance social programmes by stopping corruption.
He has also pledged to provide free narcotics to addicts in an effort to combat drug trafficking.
Despite his anti-graft rhetoric, Hernandez is under a corruption investigation himself over allegations he intervened in a rubbish management tender to benefit a company his son lobbied for. He has denied wrongdoing.
Defence Minister Diego Molano told journalists on Sunday afternoon that the killing of an electoral volunteer in Guapi, Cauca province, was under investigation.
Sixty voting locations had to be moved because of heavy rains in some parts of the country, the registrar said.
Credit: Al Jazeera