BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombia's presidential election on May 27 is the first since the government signed a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia leading to the disarmament of some 7,000 fighters. Five candidates are running and if none gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will head to a runoff in June. Here's a glance at who's running and what's at stake:
Polls indicate that the two leading candidates are Gustavo Petro, a leftist running on an anti-establishment platform, and Ivan Duque, a conservative lawyer and former senator who has promised to change some provisions of the 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
Duque has aligned himself with U.S. drug policy, promising to resume a controversial program of spraying coca fields with herbicide that President Juan Manuel Santos ended over health concerns. A former bureaucrat at the Inter-American Development Bank, Duque lived in the U.S. for more than a decade. He promises to stimulate the economy by decreasing taxes on businesses and boosting oil production. His critics point out that the 41-year-old has almost no managerial experience.
Petro was a member of the disbanded M-19 guerrilla movement in his youth and later was elected to the Senate, where he led corruption investigations into the links between right-wing paramilitary groups and regional political dynasties. He also served as mayor of Bogota, but was removed in what he says were politically motivated disciplinary actions related to his overhaul of the city's garbage collection system. Petro's critics accuse him of being a populist, pointing to his past support for Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez.
Besides Petro and Duque, ex-Vice President German Vargas and ex-Medellin Mayor Sergio Fajardo are also running as centrists hoping to beat one of the front-runners and force a runoff. Both candidates promise to implement market friendly economic policies. Trailing farther behind in the polls is Humberto de la Calle, who was the government's chief negotiator in the peace talks.
WHAT'S AT STAKE?
Colombia's next president will have to oversee the implementation of the peace deal, ensuring that former guerrilla fighters are able to participate in politics and integrate into civilian life. That is already proving to be a challenge as some former FARC fighters have formed dissident groups or joined criminal gangs that are sowing violence in remote areas.
Colombia's next president will also have to build up the state presence in areas where drug trafficking gangs exert power over farmers and local governments. President Donald Trump has threatened to decertify Colombia as a partner in the war on drugs as coca cultivation has doubled since 2012 and now exceeds 188,000 hectares, according to U.S. estimates
The incoming president will also have to decide if he wants to continue ongoing peace talks with the National Liberation Army, a smaller guerrilla group that is still active in some parts of the country. And the arrival of more than 1 million Venezuelan migrants in the past two years has strained public resources and fueled resentments in Colombia.
COLOMBIA THE COUNTRY
Colombia is Latin America's third most populated country, after Brazil and Mexico, and is one of the world's largest exporters of flowers and coffee, though its economy relies largely on oil and mining. It is also Washington's staunchest ally in South America. Despite great strides made in security, it continues to be the world's top cocaine producer.