BOGOTA: Colombians voted on Sunday in a deeply divisive presidential ballot that has stirred concern the winner could upset a fragile peace accord with Marxist FARC rebels and risk former fighters returning to combat as they fear for their future.

In the first election since the controversial peace deal was signed in 2016 with the Revol­utionary Armed Forces­ of Colombia (FARC), voters will decide on a replacement for President Juan Manuel Santos, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending the five-decade-old conflict.

Leading candidate, right-wing Ivan Duque, has pledged to alter the terms of the peace deal and to jail former rebels for war crimes. Leftist Gustavo Petro, polling second and 10 points behind Duque, has also provoked alarm with pledges to overhaul Colombia’s orthodox economic policy and redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.

Trailing them in the often-unreliable polls are mathematician and centrist Sergio Fajardo and former Vice President German Vargas, who has Santos’ support.

If no candidate gets more than 50 per cent, the top two will go to a runoff on June 17.

The election coincides with a migration crisis from neighboring socialist-run Venezuela. Colombia is appealing for international support to cope with hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans streaming across the border to flee shortages of food and rising crime as their nation’s economy implodes.

“We are witnessing the most important elections in Colombia for many years,” said Alejandro Echeverri, a 20-year-old law student. “For the first time in history, there are candidates offering alternatives and that has generated a very tense environment, one polarized by two candidates.”

Business-friendly Duq­ue, handpicked by hard-liner former President Alvaro Uribe who is seen as the power behind his campaign, has promised to cut corporate taxes and support oil and mining projects, as well as impose tougher punishments for former FARC fighters.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2018

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