Colombians vote in election marked by sharp policy differences | News | DW | 17.06.2018
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Colombians vote in election marked by sharp policy differences

Voting is underway in Colombia in elections pitting a conservative front-runner against a leftist former guerilla. Depending on the outcome, either the country's fragile peace process or its economy could be at risk.

Polling stations opened in Colombia on Sunday for a runoff presidential election involving two candidates with diametrically opposed views on the economy and a landmark peace deal.

The front-runner, the business-friendly Ivan Duque, 41, says he wants to revise the 2016 peace agreement with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC rebels) struck by outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos, saying it is too lenient on the Marxist insurgents. Among other things, he wants tougher penalties for guerrilla leaders found guilty of serious crimes and to remove the former rebels' right to 10 seats in Congress under the deal.

Gustavo Petro and Ivan Duque

With Petro (l.) and Duque, Colombians are choosing between two extremes

His election rival, leftist former mayor and ex-guerrilla Gustavo Petro, 58, supports the existing deal with FARC, which allowed the group to become a political party, with its 7,000 fighters being gradually integrated into civilian life. He also says he will continue a peace process with Colombia's last active rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Petro is a former member of the disbanded M-19 guerrilla group.

The elections are the first since the peace deal with FARC, which ended the rebels' involvement in a five-decade conflict in which more than 220,000 people were killed and millions displaced. Santos' efforts to end the war brought him the Nobel Peace Prize, though the award did nothing to improve his record-low popularity ratings.

Read more: In Colombia, it's dangerous to be left wing

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Colombian election pits conservative against leftist

Two different visions

The two candidates also offer completely opposing views on how to manage the economy in the country of 49 million people.

Duque, who comfortably won the first round last month and has the backing of hard-line former President Alvaro Uribe, has promised to cut business taxes in a bid to buoy up the top export sectors of oil and coal and to help the manufacturing industry.

His leftist opponent, Petro, on the other hand, favors buying land owned by large agro-industrial companies and handing it out to poor farmers in a bid to remedy the country's glaring inequalities. He also wants to move away from reliance on extracting and using fossil fuels toward renewable energies such as wind and solar power.

Critics, who compare his policies with those of former socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, say they could undermine the country's economic development.

 The latest polls show Duque beating Petro by between six and 15 points. Polls close at 2100 UTC (4 p.m. local time), with results expected within hours.

Colombia, the world's biggest producer of cocaine, is also Latin America's fourth-largest economy.

Read more:  Colombia's delicate peace process: an overview 

tj/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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