Colombia race for president heads to runoff: leftist versus populist

Election workers count ballots
Election workers count ballots at a closed polling station Sunday in Medellin, Colombia.
(Jaime Saldarriaga / Associated Press)

Colombians will make a choice for president between a leftist former rebel and a populist businessman in a June runoff contest after none of the six candidates in Sunday’s first round received 50% of the vote.

Leftist Sen. Gustavo Petro led Sunday’s results, with just over 40% of the votes, while independent real estate tycoon Rodolfo Hernández finished second, with more than 28%, election authorities said Sunday evening. A candidate needed 50% of the total to win outright.

Voters went to the polls amid a polarized environment and growing discontent over increasing inequality and inflation.

Petro has promised to make significant adjustments to the economy, including tax reform, and to change how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups.


Hernández has few connections to political parties and promises to reduce wasteful government spending and to offer rewards for people who report corrupt officials.

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visit the small Texas city of Uvalde to meet and console the families of victims and survivors of last week’s mass shooting.

This was the second presidential election held since the government in 2016 signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC for its initials in Spanish. The divisive agreement was not a main issue during the campaign, which focused on poverty, inflation and other challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Candidates also focused on increasing violence, which the Red Cross in 2021 concluded had reached its highest level in five years. Although the peace agreement is being implemented, territories and drug trafficking routes once controlled by the FARC are in dispute between other armed groups, such as FARC dissidents, the Clan del Golfo cartel and the National Liberation Army, a guerrilla operation founded in the 1960s.

Petro and his running mate, Francia Márquez, upped their security significantly after denouncing threats made against them. At times, about 10 bodyguards escorted the two with shields.