Colombians pick candidates in two primaries for May presidential election

BOGOTA, (Reuters) – Right-wing candidate Ivan Duque and leftist Gustavo Petro will lead their respective coalitions in Colombia’s May presidential election after winning primaries yesterday.

Duque, a protégé of former President Alvaro Uribe and the standard bearer for the Democratic Center party, beat fellow candidates Marta Lucia Ramirez and Alejandro Ordonez for his coalition’s nomination with more than 3.9 million votes and 96 percent of votes counted.

Petro, a prominent leftist, former member of the disbanded M-19 guerrilla group and former mayor of Bogota, defeated Carlos Caicedo for their left-wing coalition’s nomination, with 2.7 million votes and 96 percent of votes counted. This represented about 30 percent fewer votes than Duque. Petro has led polls for the presidential vote.

Voters were allowed to vote in one primary and also voted in legislative elections. Legislative election results were due later on Sunday.

Many Colombians will have voted strategically in the primaries, hoping to influence candidate selection for the presidential vote on May 27. Duque and Petro are among several other candidates running for the presidency, including former mayor of Medellin and mathematician Sergio Fajardo.

Duque, 41, is a lawyer and senator who studied at Georgetown University before working at the Inter-American Development Bank and United Nations. He has enjoyed solid showing in polls, coming within the margin of error behind Petro in the most recent presidential survey.

Supporters of 57-year-old Petro’s Colombia Humana party highlight his work to improve conditions for the poor. He has pledged to create a “social economy” at the service of the people and shift the foundation from oil toward agriculture.

Some voters gathered outside polling places to protest a shortage of ballots for the primaries. All five primary candidates complained about the problem, which the government said was the result of poor distribution of the cards at 20 polling stations. Photocopies were used at some locations, and extra ballots were redistributed.

The head of the national registry, which runs voting in the Andean country, said the problem was under control and rejected suggestions to close polls later than the planned 4 p.m. local time.

The elections mark the debut of the former FARC rebels as a political party. The group, which preserved its famous initials with its new name, the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, demobilized under a 2016 peace deal.

The FARC is guaranteed five seats in both the 108-member Senate and the 172-member lower house under the terms of the accord. It fielded 74 legislative candidates in the hope of winning more, despite low poll numbers.

The group suffered a setback on Thursday when Rodrigo Londono, its candidate for the presidential race, withdrew due to ill health. The party said it would not seek a replacement.

Colombia’s five-decade conflict and subsequent peace accord dominated elections in 2014. Now, candidates are focusing on health, education, corruption, the economy and closing the chasm between rich and poor in the country of 50 million people.

“Now we’ve signed peace, the principal problem is corruption,” 34-year-old construction worker Alvaro Jaimes said before voting in Bogota. Jaimes said he planned to vote for Petro in the left-wing primary.

High voter abstention is typical in the country.

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