Colombia’s voters take to the polls on Sunday for the first round of a presidential election that has been dominated by polarization, aggression and pending fraud claims.
Six candidates are competing to succeed outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos in August.
Polls are open between 8AM and 4PM local time. Results are expected within hours after polling stations close their doors.
At stake: a peace process
The presidential election is the first after a peace deal that marked the end of more than 50 years of violence between now-demobilized FARC guerrillas and the state.
The peace process and a Supreme Court investigation against former President Alvaro Uribe, the political patron of conservative front-runner Ivan Duque, has polarized public opinion.
Duque has vowed to unilaterally change the 2016 peace deal, a move his opponents say threatens peace in the country.
Hot: corruption and fraud
Ongoing corruption has boosted the popularity of thee leftist and centrist anti-corruption candidates at the cost of traditional elite politicians.
Leftist candidate Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla and former mayor of the capital Bogota, has drawn huge crowds, promising to protect peace and minority rights, and stimulate economic development away from oil and mining.
Duque and former Vice-President German Vargas have branded the outspoken anti-corruption crusader as a communist.
The polarized debate has diminished chances for moderate candidates Sergio Fajardo and Humberto de la Calle, according to the country’s notoriously unreliable polls.
Online interest in candidates
Tensions over fraud claims
Petro has been warning about possible election fraud after the State Council found that fraudsters had altered election results in 2014 and electoral authorities failed to act.
All elections after 2002 have been discredited by widespread election fraud, but unlike in previous elections, alleged fraud came to light before the first round.
National authorities have rushed to guarantee fair elections that are monitored by citizens group MOE, the organization of American States and the European Union.
Violence and protests
Tension in Colombia increased after the leftist candidate called on his supporters to take the street after 4PM as part of a larger campaign to prevent fraud.
Electoral observers have advised against this after numerous incidents involving violence and aggression.
The demobilization of the FARC has reduced risk of violent intervention by illegal armed groups to a record low, but there have been multiple incidents involving citizens.
Incited by far-right politicians, leftist candidates have been attacked. One election debate and several campaign events organized by Uribe were disturbed by protests.
According to Colombia’s defense ministry, some 145,000 men and women of the security forces will guarantee orderly elections.