By Nelson Bocanegra
BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombians will vote on Sunday for their next president, choosing between leftist Gustavo Petro, who promises profound social reforms, and eccentric business magnate Rodolfo Hernandez, who has found fertile ground in anti-corruption rhetoric despite facing a graft investigation.
With polls showing the candidates in a technical tie, the election could be one of the closest in Colombia’s recent history.
Petro, a former mayor of Bogota and a current senator, has pledged to improve social and economic conditions in a country where half of the population lives in some form of poverty.
“Petro is the president Colombia needs right now,” said Nora Guevara, a 48-year-old Bogota accountant who was handing out fliers for him.
A former member of the M-19 guerrilla movement, Petro has proposed an ambitious $13.5 billion tax reform – equivalent to 5.5% of Colombia’s gross domestic product – funded by higher duties on the richest.
Hernandez, a surprise contender in the second round, has been propelled by anti-corruption pledges, plans to shrink government and promises of housing for the poor.
However, the eccentric and often controversial septuagenarian faces an investigation by the attorney general’s office for allegedly intervening in a trash collection tender while mayor of Bucaramanga, to benefit a company his son had lobbied for.
Hernandez denies the accusations and his supporters like his anti-establishment image.
“Rodolfo … is a protest vote, a vote where anything political-sounding is rejected,” said real estate administrator Juan Gonzalez, 45, at a Hernandez campaign event outside Bogota.
Whoever wins, Colombia’s next president will receive a growing economy, following the deep crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The country’s GDP expanded by a record 10.7% in 2021 and is expected to grow 6.5% in 2022. The government deficit is expected to hit 5.6% of GDP, compared with an earlier target of 6.2%.
(Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Additional reporting by Carlos Vargas and Julia Symmes Cobb; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Richard Pullin)