Leftist Gustavo Petro, a former member of the M-19 guerrilla movement who has vowed profound social and economic change, won Colombia’s presidency on Sunday, the first progressive to do so in the country’s history.
Petro beat construction magnate Rodolfo Hernandez with an unexpectedly wide margin of some 716,890 votes. The two had been technically tied in polling ahead of the vote.
Petro, a former mayor of capital Bogota and current senator, has pledged to fight inequality with free university education, pension reforms and high taxes on unproductive land. He won 50.5% to Hernandez’s 47.3%.
Petro’s proposals — especially a ban on new oil projects — have startled some investors, though he has promised to respect current contracts.
Supporter Alejandro Forero, 40, who uses a wheelchair, cried as results rolled in at the Petro campaign celebration in Bogota.
“Finally, thank God. I know he will be a good president and he will help those of us who are least privileged. This is going to change for the better,” said Forero, who is unemployed.
This campaign was Petro’s third presidential bid and his victory adds the Andean nation to a list of Latin American countries that have elected progressives in recent years.
Petro, 62, said he was tortured by the military when he was detained for his involvement with the guerrillas, and his potential victory has high-ranking armed forces officials bracing for change.
Petro’s running mate Francia Marquez, a single mother and former housekeeper, will be the country’s first Afro-Colombian woman vice-president.