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Leftist Petro wins Colombia's presidential vote, ends century of rightwing rule

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Colombian President Gustavo Petro speaks during an interview with Reuters in Bogota, Colombia, on June 10, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

Gustavo Petro’s surprise win in the Colombian presidential election has ushered in a new era of politics in the South American country after a century of right-wing rule and decades of civil war.

Petro, 62, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla movement, beat the real estate magnate Rodolfo Hernandez with an unexpectedly wide margin of some 719,975 votes on Sunday, garnering 50.5 percent of the votes.

The first round of the election was held on May 29, when Petro and Hernandez proceeded to the second round with 40.34 percent and 28.17 percent of the votes respectively.

Petro, a senator in his third attempt to win the presidency, previously served as the mayor of the capital Bogota. During his campaign, the left-wing politician vowed to end inequality and focus on pension reforms and the country's taxation policy.

His election is being seen as a strong blow to the right-wing lobby and the Latin Americans’ orientation toward left-wing politics. 

"Today is a day of celebration for the people. Let them celebrate the first popular victory," Petro tweeted after the historic win. "May so many sufferings be cushioned in the joy that today floods the heart of the homeland."

He issued a call for unity during his victory speech and extended an olive branch to some of his staunch critics, saying all members of the opposition will be welcomed at the presidential palace "to discuss the problems of Colombia."

"From this government that is beginning there will never be political persecution or legal persecution, there will only be respect and dialogue," he said, adding that he will listen to not only those who have raised arms but also to "that silent majority of peasants, Indigenous people, women, youth."

According to experts, the emergence of a progressive government led by Petro could strengthen the convergence among the Latin American states and improve the regional blocs such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

Accordingly, the South American state can put aside its former policy of being an American vassal state and play an active role in continental integration.

Congratulatory messages pour in for Petro 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro congratulated Petro and his running mate Francia Márquez after their election victory in Colombia.

“I congratulate Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez for their historic electoral victory in Colombia’s presidential elections. The will of the Colombian people, who came out to shield the pathway of democracy and peace, was quite heard. New times are in sight for Colombia”, Maduro tweeted.

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe cut ties with Venezuela during the presidency of Hugo Chavez, accusing Caracas of supporting members of the FARC terrorist group.

However, Petro has promised to resume formal relations with Venezuela for the first time since 2010.

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