Left-winger Gustavo Petro has won an emphatic victory in a Colombian primary election, confirming he is the man to beat in this year’s presidential vote, while his coalition did well in legislative elections and will be one of the biggest blocs in the next parliament.
With just over 99 per cent of votes counted in the left-wing primary, Mr Petro had taken more than 80 per cent of the vote in a contest between five candidates. He will now go on to the first round of the presidential election on May 29th and most opinion polls suggest he is favourite to win.
"This is the best result for progressives in the history of Colombia, " the former guerrilla told supporters on Sunday night. "We're on the verge of winning the presidency of Colombia in the first round."
If he wins the presidency, Mr Petro, a senator, former congressman and ex-mayor of Bogotá, would take Colombia sharply leftwards after four years of right-wing rule under President Iván Duque.
He has pledged to wind down Colombia’s oil industry by halting all exploration, and said the country should focus on manufacturing and agriculture instead. Economists say the policy would have a huge impact. Fossil fuels generate about half of Colombia’s export revenue.
The 61-year-old has also pledged wholesale land reform, a wealth tax on the largest 4,000 fortunes in the country and the repeal of laws from two decades ago that liberalised the labour market.
Mr Petro's coalition, the Historic Pact, looked certain to be the biggest bloc in a fragmented senate with about 17 of the 108 seats on offer, just ahead of Colombia's two traditional heavyweight parties, the Liberals and Conservatives. Duque's right-wing party, the Democratic Centre, suffered a sharp drop in its share of seats.
In the lower house Mr Petro’s coalition was on target to win about 25 of the 187 seats, making it the second biggest party behind the Liberals.
"We have a clear winner today in Petro," said Patricia Muñoz, a political scientist at Javeriana university in Bogotá. She predicted he would now seek an alliance with the Liberal Party, which has no presidential candidate of its own.
In the presidential election Mr Petro is likely to face at least five challengers. They include two former mayors of Medellín – Sergio Fajardo, who won a centrist primary on Sunday, and Federico Gutiérrez, who triumphed in a right-wing primary.
Some 5.5 million people voted in the left-wing primary, four million in the right-wing primary and 2.2 million in the centrist primary, suggesting the left has the momentum heading into the presidential vote. Voters were only allowed to cast ballots in one of the three contests.
Mr Petro won nearly 4.5 million votes, more than twice as many Gutiérrez and more than six times as many as Fajardo.
The other three presidential hopefuls are Ingrid Betancourt, a former senator who was kidnapped by Marxist guerrillas from the Farc last time she ran for the office two decades ago; Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who has the support of the country's influential conservative ex-president Álvaro Uribe; and Rodolfo Hernández, a 76-year-old populist and businessman who is running independently. They did not take part in Sunday's primaries.
If no one takes more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first round, the election will go to a run-off between the leading two candidates on June 19th. The new president will take office in August when Duque, who is not eligible for re-election, stands down. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022