Polling stations have opened for Colombia’s fiercely contested second — and final — round of presidential elections. The country will choose between incumbent President Juan Manuel Santos and hard-line rival Oscar Ivan Zuluaga.
The run-off vote is expected to produce the tightest presidential race in recent history with support polls placing the two candidates neck and neck.
President Santos, who hopes to overcome his first round loss to Zuluaga and gain a second term in office, has pinned his re-election hopes on the ongoing peace process with the country’s largest guerrilla group the FARC, which has been taking place in Cuba since 2012 and seeks to end 50 years of civil conflict.
However, Zuluaga — a staunch critic of the dialogues — seeks to turn the tables on the incumbent and, with the support of former President and Senator-elect Alvaro Uribe, has so far proven a formidable adversary throughout the whole campaign.
Just five days from the run-off date and in an apparent bid to stem the growing support for the Zualauga camp, Santos, along with the country’s second largest guerrilla group, the ELN, announced the beginning of a formal peace process.
Security and FARC cease fire
Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said security measures during elections would include the deployment of 246,000 military troops and police to 10,416 polling stations throughout the country, with an additional 191,000 in charge of maintaining public safety and protecting infrastructure.
Following a similar announcement prior to the first round of elections, the FARC, have enacted a unilateral ceasefire for three weeks. Unlike the first round cease fire, however, the ELN rebel group have not followed the FARC’s lead.
They have chosen to “not assume a new unilateral ceasefire for the second election round because every time the insurgency does something like this, it is used by the state military forces to obtain military advantage over our own troops.”
Historically high among Colombian voters, abstention during the first round of presidential elections hit an an alarming 60%. This figure is expected to rise as supporters of the other three candidates no longer in the race either mark the “blank” protest vote, or stay at home.
First round candidates Maria Lucia Ramirez from the Conservative Party and Clara Lopez Obregon from the Democratic Pole have both thrown their support behind Zuluaga and Santos, respectively, and urged their supporters to do the same.
According to the National Registry, a total of 32,975,158 Colombians are registered to vote. Of the total population of eligible voters, 17,129,768 are women and 15,845,390 men, who may vote at 89,389 tables spread across 10,642 polling stations.
Voting opened at 8AM and will close at 4PM, with results expected to be reported prior to 8PM local time. Armed security details and independent electoral observers are already stationed throughout the country. Colombia Reports will be publishing election bulletins as they come in from 4PM.