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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 17 July 2018

Hawkish Duque poised to become Colombia’s next president

Duque captured 54 percent of the votes, more than 12 points ahead of leftist former guerrilla Gustavo Petro

Supporters of the presidential candidate for Colombia's Democratic Center Party, Ivan Duque, react in Bogota as the results from the presidential runoff election in Colombia. AFP/Raul Arboleda
Supporters of the presidential candidate for Colombia's Democratic Center Party, Ivan Duque, react in Bogota as the results from the presidential runoff election in Colombia. AFP/Raul Arboleda

Ivan Duque, the young conservative protege of a powerful former Colombian president, was poised Sunday to become the country’s next president after promising to roll back a still fragile peace accord.

The 41-year-old Duque captured 54 percent of the votes, putting him more than 12 points ahead of leftist former guerrilla Gustavo Petro in a tense election run-off that divided many Colombians during a critical juncture in the nation’s history. More than 97 percent of polling stations were reporting results.

The prematurely graying Mr Duque galvanised voters by promising to change parts of the accord with leftist rebels but not “shred it to pieces.” He would be the youngest president in Colombia in more than a century.

“I’ve come here to fulfill a dream,” Mr Duque said outside his voting centre Sunday. “For Colombia to be governed by a new generation, one that wants to govern for all and with. One that unites the country and turns the page on corruption.”

The new president will inherit a country still scarred by more than five decades of bloody conflict and grappling with soaring coca production. Former guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia are struggling to reinsert themselves in civilian life in a nation where many people remain hesitant to forgive. Vast swaths of remote territory remain under the control of violent drug mafias and residual rebel bands.

“Undoubtedly, for the peace process, this is an important test,” said Patricia Munoz, a professor of political science at the Pontifical Xavierian University in Bogota.

It was the first presidential election since the signing of the peace agreement ending Latin America’s longest-running conflict and was as much about the accord as it was deeply entrenched issues such as corruption and inequality.

Mr Petro inspired young voters and drew millions to public plazas with his fiery speeches vowing to improve the lives of poor, disenfranchised Colombians.

And though he failed to catch Mr Duque, his candidacy marked the biggest ballot box success for a leftist presidential contender in Colombia’s history. Conservative candidates dominated Colombia’s elections during years of conflict in which leftist politicos were stigmatized amid fears of potential ties to guerrilla causes.

“I don’t think there is a single Colombian who thinks things are going well today,” Mr Petro said after casting his ballot with his young daughter in hand.

Colombia’s peace process to end years of conflict between leftist rebels, the state and right-wing paramilitary groups that left more than 250,000 people dead is considered largely irreversible. More than 7,000 rebels have surrendered their weapons and started new lives as farmers, community leaders and journalists. Last year the rebels launched a new political party and will soon occupy 10 seats in congress.

But peace remains contentious and Mr Duque pledged throughout his campaign to make changes that would deliver “peace with justice.” Through constitutional reform or by decree, he could proceed with proposals such as not allowing ex-combatants guilty of crimes against humanity to take political office until they have served time.