Colombia elects new president in historic voting round

Colombia’s voters take to the polls on Sunday for a presidential election that is likely to have major consequences for peace in the country.

The front-runner in the race, conservative dynasty-politician Ivan Duque, has vowed to unilaterally change a 2016 peace deal with the now-demobilized FARC guerrillas, a move widely seen as the death blow to an extremely fragile peace process.

Duque is also expected to end peace talks with ELN rebels and propose hard-line measures to curb the cultivation of coca, the base ingredient for cocaine, that has skyrocketed.

His opponent, Gustavo Petro, is a former guerrilla who demobilized with a different group decades ago. He wants to revive the process, reduce poverty, combat corruption and seek the reduction of crime through social policies.

The polls are unanimous; Petro doesn’t stand a chance. His grass-roots movement of minority groups, victim organizations and students is unlikely to defeat the political powerhouses that support Duque, the protege of controversial former President Alvaro Uribe.

Latest election polls

Vicious election race

The election race that began months before legislative elections in March has been one of the most peaceful in history, despite violent incidents in which angry mobs attacked leftist candidates.

At least two rallies of Uribe were disturbed by protests. Petro was attacked, allegedly with firearms, in Cucuta.

The electoral process had been agitated by massive amounts of disinformation on social media and promoted by far-right politicians campaigning from the fringes.

Election observers have warned that hate speech could escalate in more political violence.

Duque has refused to take part in second round election debates, which has led to major criticism from election observers and political scientists.

Colombia’s observers condemn lack of election debates

Concerns over irregularities

The country’s largest illegal armed group, the AGC, did not announce a ceasefire, but have generally respected elections. Rebel group ELN announced a four-day unilateral ceasefire to allow the voting process.

The National Police announced Saturday that more than 120,000 policemen will be on the street and near polling stations to guarantee security.

International observers arrived in Colombia days ago already to monitor the elections. The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) deployed thousands of volunteers to monitor polling stations.

National electoral authorities have come under fire over major fraud claims they have refused to investigate.

The polling stations will be open between 8AM and 4PM local time. Results are expected within hours after the polls close.

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