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New Colombia president may seek to revise rebel peace deal

Updated

By Reuters

 BOGOTA – Right-wing candidate Ivan Duque won Colombia’s presidential election on Sunday, beating leftist Gustavo Petro in a victory that will reassure investors but raised the prospect of changes to a landmark peace accord with Marxist rebels.

Presidential candidate Ivan Duque greets supporters as he departs a polling station after casting his vote during the second round of the presidential election in Bogota, Colombia, June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez / MANILA BULLETIN

Presidential candidate Ivan Duque greets supporters as he departs a polling station after casting his vote during the second round of the presidential election in Bogota, Colombia, June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez / MANILA BULLETIN

With 99.9 percent of polling stations counted, Duque comfortably won the ballot with 54.0 percent of votes while Petro, who had pledged to shake up Colombia’s economic model, had 41.8 percent.

It was Colombia’s first presidential election since the 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which ended their part in a five-decade conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.

Duque, 41, the business friendly protégé of hardline former President Alvaro Uribe, wants to change the deal, which he deems too lenient on the Marxist FARC rebels, while keeping Colombia’s economic policies intact.

By contrast, former guerrilla Petro had pledged to take on political elites, redistribute land to the poor and gradually eliminate the need for oil and coal in Latin America’s fourth-largest economy. His positions prompted critics to compare him to Venezuela’s former socialist President Hugo Chavez.

“Our hope has arrived,” said 52-year-old publicist Carlos Cortes, a Duque supporter. “Now, with more respect for private enterprise, more jobs will be generated and we’ll move forward as a country.”

From the sweltering Caribbean coast to the frigid heights of the Andes, voting was uneventful at 11,230 polling stations. Marking of ballots was monitored by international election observers to guard against fraud.

Although Petro won a majority in only nine of 32 provinces, including the capital Bogota, the fact that a leftist advanced to a second round and won 8 million votes – versus 10.3 million for Duque – is historic in Colombia where traditionally conservative politicians have held sway.

Petro, 58, had called on supporters to take to the streets if he felt there was widespread manipulation of the tally, but he appeared to accept the outcome of Sunday’s election.

“What defeat? Eight million free Colombians taking a stand. There is no defeat here. For now we won’t be the government,” Petro said on Twitter.

Fractured leftDuque will face significant challenges when he takes office in August. The economy remains weak; drug trafficking gangs have moved into areas once controlled by the FARC and more than half a million Venezuelan migrants have crossed into Colombia, looking for food and work.

His plans to change the peace deal to seek tougher punishments for FARC war crimes will face considerable opposition in Congress and from Colombia’s Constitutional Court.

Duque has promised to bolster the $324 billion economy, keep investors happy by cutting business taxes, support the oil and coal sectors – top exports – and help manufacturing.

State-run oil company Ecopetrol SA ECO.CN is responsible for almost 60 percent of Colombia’s oil production of around 830,000 barrels per day and operates export pipeline infrastructure.

Petro had promised to shift its emphasis toward wind and solar power.

“It is a result that’s very in line with what the market had been expecting and it guarantees that Colombia’s reputation – political and economic stability – is still valid,” Felipe Campos, head economist at Alianza brokerage, said.

Duque is the candidate for the Democratic Center Party, a movement started in 2013 by Uribe, seen as the power behind the throne.

A one-term senator, Duque worked at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington until 2014, when Uribe asked him to return to Colombia and take a seat in Congress. Duque’s running mate, Marta Lucia Ramirez, will be Colombia’s first female vice president.

For decades, Colombia’s fractured left has failed to come close to winning the presidency or exercising control in Congress, overshadowed by right-wing contenders who have promised strong security policies.

Yet the 2016 deal with the FARC clearly shifted priorities for many voters in the Andean country of nearly 50 million people.

Despite Petro’s loss, voter interest in tackling inequality, corruption and inadequate social services looks set to create opportunities for the left in future, possibly as soon as 2022.

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