For the first time, Colombia gets a left-wing president.
Gustavo Petro, a former rebel and longtime senator who has promised to transform the country’s economic system, has won Sunday’s election, according to preliminary results, which has put Latin America’s third largest nation on a radically new path.
Mr. Petro, 62, received more than 50 percent of the vote, with more than 99 percent speaking Sunday night. His opponent, Rodolfo Hernández, a construction magnate who had put energy into the country with a sweaty earth anti-corruption platform, just over 47 per cent.
Shortly after the vote, Mr Hernández admitted to Mr Petro.
“Colombians, today the majority of citizens have chosen the second candidate,” he told his supporters in Bucaramanga. “As I said during the campaign, I accept the result of this election.”
Just over 58 percent of Colombia’s 39 million voters turned out to cast their ballots, according to official figures.
Mr. Petro’s victory reflects widespread dissatisfaction in Colombia, a country of 50 million, with poverty and inequality on the rise and widespread dissatisfaction with lack of opportunities, problems that sent hundreds of thousands of people to demonstrate in the streets last year.
“The whole country is begging for change,” said Fernando Posada, a Colombian political scientist, “and it’s quite clear.”
The victory is all the more significant because of the history of the country. For decades, the government fought a brutal left-wing uprising known as Colombia’s revolutionary armed forces, or the FARC, in which the stigma of the conflict made it difficult for a legitimate left to flourish.
But the FARC signed a peace deal with the government in 2016, in which they laid down their arms and opened the door to a broader political discourse.
Sir. Petro had been part of another rebel group, called the M-19, which was demobilized in 1990 and became a political party that helped rewrite the country’s constitution.
Both Mr Petro and Mr Hernández beat Federico Gutiérrez, a former metropolitan mayor backed by the conservative elite, in a first round of voting on May 29, sending them to an election campaign.
Both men had identified themselves as anti-establishment candidates and said they were running against a political class that had controlled the country for generations.
Among the factors that separated them the most was how they looked at the root of the country’s problems.
Mr. Petro believes the economic system is broken, too dependent on oil exports and a thriving and illegal cocaine business, which he said has made the rich richer and poorer poorer. He calls for a halt to all new oil exploration, a shift to developing other industries and an expansion of social programs, while imposing higher taxes on the rich.
“What we have today is the result of what I call the ‘depletion of the model,'” he said. Petro in an interview with reference to the current economic system. “The end result is brutal poverty.”
However, his ambitious financial plan has given rise to concern. A former finance minister called his energy plan “economic suicide”.
Mr. Petro joins in August and will face pressing issues with global consequences: Lack of opportunities and rising violence, which have prompted a record number of Colombians to migrate to the United States in recent months; high levels of deforestation in the Colombian Amazon, a critical buffer against climate change; and growing threats to democracy, part of a trend around the region.
He will face a deeply polarized society, where opinion polls show growing distrust of almost all major institutions.
Mr. Petro was also able to reshape Colombia’s relationship with the United States.
For decades, Colombia has been Washington’s strongest ally in Latin America and has formed the cornerstone of the country’s security policy in the region. During his campaign, Mr Petro promised to reconsider this issue, including crucial collaborations on drugs, Venezuela and trade.
In the interview, Mr Petro said his relationship with the United States would focus on working together to tackle climate change, specifically stopping the rapid erosion of the Amazon.
“There’s a point of dialogue there,” he said. “Because saving the Amazon rainforest involves some instruments, some programs that do not exist today, at least not with regard to the United States.”
Megan Janetsky contributed reporting from Bucaramanga, Colombia, and Sofía Villamil and Genevieve Glatsky contributed reporting from Bogotá.