0857 GMT January 18, 2019
In the first election since the peace deal was signed in 2016 with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), voters will decide on a replacement for President Juan Manuel Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the five-decade-old conflict, Reuters reported.
Leading candidate, right-wing Ivan Duque, has pledged to alter the terms of the peace deal and to jail former rebels for war crimes. Leftist Gustavo Petro, polling second, has said he would overhaul Colombia’s orthodox economic policy and redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.
Trailing them in the often-unreliable polls are mathematician and centrist Sergio Fajardo and former vice president German Vargas, who has Santos’ support.
If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, the top two will go to a runoff on June 17.
Campaigning in the traditionally conservative nation has been marked by acrimonious accusations that rival candidates will collapse the economy with socialist policies, force the nation back to the battlefield or bust the budget by overspending.
Under the terms of the deal, thousands of rebels demobilized and the group is now a political party. But the accord drew the ire of many who believe the FARC should be in prison and not in Congress.
Some areas abandoned by the FARC have suffered an increase in fighting between criminal gangs and remaining guerrilla group the National Liberation Army (ELN) over valuable illegal mining and drug trafficking territories. Colombia’s production of coca – the raw material for cocaine – has risen sharply, stirring concern in Washington.
The election also coincides with a growing migration crisis from neighboring Venezuela. Colombia is appealing for international support to cope with hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans streaming across the border to flee shortages of food and rising crime as their nation’s economy implodes.