Colombia will see its top two presidential candidates – law-and-order conservative Iván Duque and leftist former guerrilla fighter Gustavo Petro – move on to a runoff vote after Duque won Sunday’s election with 39.14 percent of the vote.
Petro received 25.08 percent of the vote, according to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. To avoid a runoff, a presidential candidate must receive 50 percent of votes in the first round.
Duque, of the conservative Democratic Center party, will face off against Petro, running independently under the Petro for President Coalition/Human Colombia, on July 17.
El Tiempo notes that Sunday’s election turnout was historic: nearly 20 million people voted, nearly four million more than the record 16 million in 2014. Almost as many people voted for Duque as the number that voted for any other candidate except Duque and Petro: 7.6 million votes for Duque and 7.2 million votes for the non-Duque and Petro candidates. Duque and Petro must now campaign for those 7.2 million votes when only 2.7 million votes divided them in the first round, turning the runoff vote into a toss-up.
More Colombians voted in this election than any election in the country’s history. Percentage-wise, turnout was at 54 percent, the highest since 1974.
Geographically, Duque significantly overwhelmed Petro. Duque won the Colombian heartland, while Petro cemented the popularity of leftist parties in the country’s coastal and urban areas. While Duque and Petro represented the far right and far left respectively, the establishment liberal and conservative parties failed dramatically to attract voters:
El Tiempo notes that the rise of Democratic Center, a party led by popular former president and Sen. Álvaro Uribe, and the leftist Petro coalition signal the almost complete demise of the establishment Liberal and Conservative Parties, which “controlled power for over 150 years until about two decades ago.”
Petro’s victory also comes in light of another unprecedented aspect of this presidential election: it was the first one in which the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist terrorist organization, was allowed to participate as a legal political party.
The FARC, rebranded for elections as the “Revolutionary Alternative Common Force,” initially launched its terror chief, the guerrilla leader “Timochenko,” as its presidential candidate. Timochenko consistently polled at around one percent after withdrawing from the election in March, having suffered a heart attack. FARC leaders chose not to nominate another candidate.
The FARC also failed to win any congressional seats not guaranteed to them by the deal in a legislative election this year.
Under current President Juan Manuel Santos – once a member of Uribe’s Cabinet, now one of his most acrimonious dissenters – the Colombian government legalized the FARC as part of a “peace deal” it unconstitutionally passed in December 2016, after Colombian voters rejected it in a referendum. The deal requires known FARC terrorists to hand over their weapons and go through a process of reintegration into society. In exchange, the terrorist group’s leaders receive uncontested seats in the national legislature and can run for office. Opponents of the deal argue that it provides no safeguards against the FARC, not so long ago branded the wealthiest non-jihadist terrorist organization in the world, using cocaine or other drug trafficking profits to fund election campaigns. The deal also did not require most FARC terrorists to spend time in prison.
The FARC has killed at least 220,000 people and “disappeared” another 100,000 in its half-century of existence. These numbers do not count the infants killed in forced abortions conceived through the rape of child soldiers, a common practice.
Duque and his Democratic Center Party have been among the loudest voices rejecting the reintegration of the FARC into Colombian society.
“We can’t keep rewarding delinquency here, if the FARC keep committing drug trafficking crimes after signing agreements, we have to denounce them, prove [the crimes] and extradite them,” Duque said in a campaign rally this month. “They know that they have to give reparations to the victims, tell the truth, serve their punishments for the good of Colombia.”
Some of the FARC’s leadership stands accused of crimes outside of Colombia, including drug trafficking throughout the Western Hemisphere, thus prompting Duque’s call to extradite them. A terrorist using the alias “Jesús Santrich,” one of the FARC’s highest-ranking leaders and a would-be senator, was charged in a U.S. court in April for trying to sell $15 million worth of cocaine in Miami, Florida.
Duque has also campaigned on cutting government spending and arresting corrupt politicians. On Sunday night, he posted a message to Facebook reading, “I want us to give ourselves the chance to understand that security is a democratic value and a public good, to understand that without security we cannot exercise our liberties”:
Quiero que nos demos la oportunidad de entender que la seguridad es un valor democrático y es un bien público, de entender que sin seguridad no se pueden ejercer la libertades. #ElFuturoEsDeTodos pic.twitter.com/GvsQWa2ySs
— Iván Duque (@IvanDuque) May 28, 2018
In contrast, Petro has garnered support from former FARC terrorists, who see him as an antidote to the “capitalists” running Colombia, according to Al Jazeera. A veteran of the M-19 terrorist association, Petro rose to become mayor of Bogotá, the nation’s capital, and has courted controversy by supporting Hugo Chávez in neighboring Venezuela, claiming that, unlike current leader Nicolás Maduro, Chávez was not a dictator.
The Venezuelan crisis has triggered alarm in Colombia, where half-a-million Venezuelans have crossed the border looking to escape the hunger and violence generated by that government’s socialist system. Notably, one of the largest vote percentages for Duque was among Colombians living abroad in Colombia. According to El Nacional, 68 percent of Colombians in Venezuela voted for Duque, while the center-right candidate Germán Vargas Lleras came in second with 13.25 percent. Petro came in third.