Colombia election: Petro goes to second round with Hernandez

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Colombian leftist Gustavo Petro came out on top in the first round of the Andean country’s presidential election on Sunday and will face a surprise contender – businessman Rodolfo Hernandez – in a second-round on June 19.

Petro, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla movement who has vowed profound economic and social change, had 40.3% of votes, national registry office tallies showed, with 96.2% of ballot boxes counted.

Hernandez, the septuagenarian former mayor of Bucaramanga, who has promised to fight corruption even though he is under investigation for graft, won 28.1%.

Petro, a 62-year-old former mayor of Bogota, has consistently led opinion polls on promises to redistribute pensions, offer free public universities and begin to change what he says are centuries of profound inequality. read more

He has promised to fully implement a 2016 peace deal with the FARC rebels and seek peace talks with the still-active ELN rebels, as well as halt all new oil and gas development.

 “People are showing they are tired of the same thing, that they want a change,” said sound engineer Cristian Riano, 35, who was celebrating Petro’s victory in central Bogota.

That sentiment was backed by Daniela Cuellar, senior consultant at FTI Consulting in Bogota, who said Colombians’ thirst for something different was clearly demonstrated now the two candidates promising change were heading to the run-off.

“This election is not about Petro or a move to the left. 

“This is about the Colombian population being tired of the traditional political class and are seeking a better life,” Daniela said.

Youth is a major demographic for Petro, who had about 50% support in opinion polls from the country’s youngest voters.

His campaign ramped up efforts to encourage youth turn-out in the last few days, acknowledging that young people may need an extra push to vote over a holiday weekend.

Petro has rejected oft-repeated accusations he will mimic the policies of deceased former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his successor Nicolas Maduro.

He says it is his opponents – who he accuses of making the country reliant on oil income and of brutality toward anti-government protesters – who most resemble the Venezuelan leaders.

 

Reuters/Zainab Sa’id