Colombia’s voters take part in the first round of the most violent presidential elections in a decade.
Tensions in the South American country are high after irregularities in congressional elections plummeted public confidence in the authorities in March.
Pollsters have predicted a major victory for opposition Senator Gustavo Petro, one of the increasingly authoritarian President Ivan Duque’s most vociferous critics.
None of the pollsters indicated that Petro would get more than 50% of the votes, which implies that the frontrunner will have to confront the runner-up in a second round on June 19.
Most pollsters have indicated that former Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez, who is endorsed by the government coalition, is the most likely candidate to confront Petro in the second round.
A third candidate, liberal demagogue Rodolfo Hernandez, also has a chance of making it to the second round, according to the pollsters.
Free and fair elections?
Election observers, judges and opposition politicians have expressed their concern about authorities’ failure to guarantee free and fair elections.
The National Electoral Council (CNE) called off plans for an independent audit of election software that partially caused almost 1.5 million votes to disappear in the congressional elections, according to independent electoral observers
National Registrar Alexander Vega, who organizes the election, is being investigated for multiple irregularities that were revealed after a scrutiny of the March election results.
A court from the capital Bogota on Friday ordered the president to refrain from trying to influence the outcome of the elections by illegally meddling in electoral debates.
The Constitutional Court previously reprimanded Duque and his congressional coalition for illegally suspending legislation that is in place to prevent the use of public funds for election campaigns.
According to the Anti-Corruption Institute, the government will have to recover $2.1 billion that were illegally granted in the months leading up to the elections.
Colombia’s elections shrouded by distrust in government
The campaigns leading up to the elections were marred by violence.
Petro canceled rallies in the coffee region earlier this month after a tip-off about an alleged plot to assassinate the frontrunner.
The opposition candidate’s running mate, environmental activist Francia Marquez, was rushed off stage during a campaign event in Bogota last week after she was targeted by a laser from a building some 400 meters from the rally.
Márquez previously said that she received three death threats from far-right group “Aguilas Negras” in March alone.
The Electoral Observation Mission (MOE) said Wednesday that it had registered almost 700 acts of electoral violence, more than twice as many as in 2018.
The MOE and the Ombudsman’s Office revised their original risk assessment after a surge in violence by illegal armed groups after the congressional elections.