Updated Jun 20, 2022 - World

Colombia elects Gustavo Petro as country's first leftist president

Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez
Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez. Photo: Sebastian Barros/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Former rebel fighter Gustavo Petro is set to become Colombia's first leftist president after narrowly defeating millionaire businessman Rodolfo Hernández in Sunday's runoff election, early results showed.

The big picture: Petro's running mate, Francia Márquez, will become Colombia's first Black vice president.

  • Petro had more than 50.4% of the votes, compared to Hernández's 47.26%, with over 99% of the ballots counted Sunday evening, according to early results released by the national registry office. Official results are expected later this week.

Of note: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulated Colombia on holding a "free and fair presidential election" and said he looked forward to working with Petro "to further strengthen the U.S.-Colombia relationship and move our nations toward a better future," according to a statement issued by the State Department.

Driving the news: Sunday's runoff was set to shake up Colombia's political and economic landscape regardless of the winner.

  • The success of Petro and Hernández — two anti-establishment figures — in the first-round election late last month was seen as a major blow to Colombia's political class. They entered Sunday's runoff virtually tied in the polls.
  • Petro will replace highly unpopular President Iván Duque, who could not run for re-election.

State of play: Colombia, one of Latin America’s biggest economies and strongest U.S. allies, is facing high inflation and worsening unemployment and inequality.

  • It's also still reeling after a half-century-long armed conflict with the now-defunct FARC guerrillas. The country has seen an uptick in violence, in part due to armed groups fighting over territory once controlled by the FARC.
  • Petro, a former mayor of Bogota who was once a rebel fighter with the now-defunct M-19 movement, has promised to fight inequality, provide free public university education and tackle climate change, including opposing the expansion of the oil and gas industry. He also vowed to transform the economy by implementing tax reforms and other measures.
  • Petro and Márquez campaigned on a promise to create a Ministry of Equality, which will be led by the vice president. The Afro Colombian population is large but has been historically marginalized in the country.

What they're saying: "Today is a day for the people to rejoice. Let's celebrate the first win from the people and that all our sufferings be lessened by the joy in the heart of our" nation, Petro tweeted as results came in Sunday.

  • "This win is for God and the people and its' history. Today we celebrate in streets and plazas."

Conceding defeat, Hernández said: "I wish Gustavo Petro the wisdom to know how to run the nation, that he fulfills his promises to fight corruption and that he doesn't let those who supported him down."

The big picture: Petro's victory comes amid a surge in support for leftist candidates across Latin America.

  • Chile and Honduras last year voted for left-wing candidates to replace conservative leaders.

What's next: The inauguration is scheduled for Aug. 7.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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