Colombia has chosen Iván Duque, a conservative neophyte, to be its next president after a long and divisive campaign that often centred on a controversial peace process with leftist rebels the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). Duque, who opposes the peace deal, won in a second round runoff election on Sunday with 53.9% of the vote. His vanquished opponent, Bogotá’s former mayor Gustavo Petro – once a leftist militant himself – defends the peace process. Despite being the first leftist in the conservative country’s history to come so close to the presidency, he lost on the night, taking 41.8% of the vote.
Articles about voting issues in South America.
President-elect Ivan Duque appealed for unity after winning a runoff election over a leftist firebrand whose ascent shook Colombia’s political establishment and laid bare deep divisions over the nation’s peace process. The conservative Duque, the protege of a powerful former president, was elected Sunday with 54 percent of the vote. He finished more than 12 points ahead of former guerrilla Gustavo Petro, though the runner-up’s performance at the ballot box was the best ever for the left in one of Latin America’s most conservative nations.
Colombia: A fragile peace deal is at stake in Colombia’s runoff election | Ken Frankel/The Globe and Mail
In Colombia’s first presidential elections since the signing of the 2016 peace agreement ending its 50-year war with the FARC insurgency, candidates have competed on issues that affect people’s daily lives and future prospects, rather than who can claim the firmest hand in dealing with armed conflict and real or exaggerated threats. Political space has been opened for a broader discussion. This is especially true on the left, which had traditionally hewn closer to the centre than elsewhere in Latin America for fear of being branded by the right as soft on the security file. In first-round voting, candidates who backed the peace accord from the beginning received 59 per cent of the votes. Though they lamented the government’s inadequate preparation in implementing aspects of the accord, they agreed that Colombia had to turn the page. However, the only major candidate who had originally opposed the peace agreement, Ivan Duque, received 39 per cent of the vote.
In a blow to electronic-voting critics, Brazil’s Supreme Court has suspended the use of all paper ballots in this year’s elections. The ruling means that only electronic ballot boxes will be used, and there will be no voter-verified paper trail that officials can use to check the accuracy of results. In an 8-2 majority, justices on Wednesday sided with government arguments that the paper trails posed a risk to ballot secrecy, Brazil’s Folha De S.Paulo newspaper reported on Thursday. In so doing, the justices suspended a requirement that 5 percent of Brazil’s ballot boxes this year use paper. That requirement, by Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court, already represented a major weakening of an election reform bill passed in 2015.
ELN rebels said Monday they will cease military activities around Sunday’s presidential election. “We have decided to decree a new suspension of our military operations from the start of Friday 15 to the end of Tuesday 19,” the ELN announced in a communique on Monday. The armed group had also ceased activities in May during the first round of presidential elections.
Many in Colombia fear the election of a former guerrilla could ruin the country, while others fear the election of an oligarch could reignite mass human rights violations. While both candidates have claimed to represent hope for the country, it has been mainly concerns about the opponent that have dominated the campaign. The conservative Ivan Duque, who has the support of hard-right former President Alvaro Uribe and all traditional parties, has threatened to “restructure” an ongoing peace process and renegotiate terms for ongoing peace talks with the ELN.
Both candidates in Colombia’s presidential election race have asked the country’s chief prosecutor to reveal alleged evidence of voter fraud. Prosecutor General Nestor Humberto Martinez said Thursday this year’s elections saw widespread election fraud, but said he would not reveal evidence until after a new president is elected. The results of legislative elections in March and the first presidential election round last week have become controversial after claims that both votes saw widespread fraud. Martinez said he would not reveal evidence of “sicking” levels of fraud until after the elections “so they don’t say I am intervening in politics.” Martinez’ claim contradicted the country’s electoral authorities that have categorically denied fraud claims.
There were five candidates competing in Colombia’s May 27 presidential election, but peace was the main question on the ballot. In late 2016, the Colombian government signed a controversial accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, a guerrilla group. Election season closely followed the peace deal – an incredibly divisive issue that was defeated at referendum just over a month before Congress approved it – turning it into a polarizing campaign issue. Implementation of the ambitious agreements with the FARC remains a work in progress. Colombia is also currently negotiating another peace process, with the National Liberation Army guerrilla group. The next president must decide whether to keep to this path or take a different route.
Colombia’s electoral authorities refuse to investigate voting corruption despite strong claims of widespread rigging. The fraud accusations originated from anti-corruption candidate Gustavo Petro and his supporters, who alleged that voting result charts were doctored to favor front-running rival Ivan Duque. The claims were neither confirmed nor denied by independent electoral observers. The European Union, who sent a small envoy of observers to monitor the vote, told Colombia Reports it refused to speculate. Ahead of the elections, Petro had warned of alleged attempts for voting to be rigged in favor of German Vargas, who ended fourth.
Colombians have failed to elect a president outright, setting the stage for a bitter runoff between two frontrunners from opposite ends of the political spectrum, while a peace process with leftist rebels hangs in the balance. Iván Duque, a hardline conservative who viscerally opposes the peace accord, took the largest share of the vote on Sunday with 39%, though fell short of the 50% required to win at the first round. Instead, he will face Gustavo Petro – a leftwinger and former mayor of Bogotá, who came second with 25% – in the second round on 17 June. Petro, himself once a guerrilla, was Colombia’s first progressive candidate in generations and had been expected to gain a larger share. But a third candidate, the more moderate Sergio Fajardo, appeared to siphon off Petro’s support, receiving 23%. It remains to be seen if Fajardo, a reformer and former mayor of Medellín, will back Petro in the second round.