BOGOTÁ (Reuters) – Colombians will vote on Sunday for their next president, choosing between leftist Gustavo Petro, who promises sweeping social reforms, and eccentric business tycoon Rodolfo Hernández, who has found fertile ground in anti-corruption rhetoric despite to face a corruption investigation.
With polls showing the candidates in a dead heat, the election could be one of the closest in Colombia’s recent history.
Petro, a former mayor of Bogotá and current senator, pledged to improve social and economic conditions in a country where half the population lives in some form of poverty.
“Petro is the president that Colombia needs right now,” said Nora Guevara, a 48-year-old accountant from Bogota who handed out flyers for him.
Political cartoons about world leaders
Petro, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla, has proposed an ambitious tax reform of 13.5 billion dollars – equivalent to 5.5% of Colombia’s gross domestic product – financed with higher tariffs for the richest.
Hernandez, a surprise contender in the second round, has been buoyed by anti-corruption pledges, plans to downsize government and promises of housing for the poor.
However, the eccentric and often controversial septuagenarian faces an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office for allegedly intervening in a garbage collection tender when he was mayor of Bucaramanga, for the benefit of a company for which his son lobbied.
Hernández denies the accusations and his supporters like his anti-establishment image.
“Rodolfo … is a protest vote, a vote where everything that sounds political is rejected,” real estate manager Juan Gonzalez, 45, said at a Hernandez campaign event outside Bogota.
Whoever wins, the next president of Colombia will receive a growing economy, after the deep crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The country’s GDP expanded by a record 10.7% in 2021 and is expected to grow 6.5% in 2022. The public deficit is expected to reach 5.6% of GDP, compared to a previous target of the 6.2%.
(Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Additional reporting by Carlos Vargas and Julia Symmes Cobb; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Richard Pullin)
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