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What to know about Colombia's surprise-filled presidential election


Colombians will go to the polls tomorrow in the final round of a presidential election that's had many surprises. There are two anti-establishment candidates on the ballot, a senator and former guerrilla rebel, Gustavo Petro, and a former mayor and businessman turned populist, Rodolfo Hernandez. Reporter Manuel Rueda is in Bogota, and he joins us now. Welcome.

MANUEL RUEDA: Thank you.

FLORIDO: Because of these two candidates, this has been described as an historic election in Colombia. Why is it different from previous presidential elections?

RUEDA: Well, the thing that's unique about this election is that none of the traditional political parties that have been ruling Colombia for decades is participating. I mean, they had a candidate that they supported in the first round of the election, but he didn't make the threshold to participate in the second round. So now we are basically left with two different kinds of outsiders, you could say, that don't belong to the traditional political parties.

FLORIDO: Well, tell us a little bit about each of the candidates. Let's start with Gustavo Petro, the leftist candidate.

RUEDA: Well, Petro has been in politics for four decades. He started his career as a member of a rebel group known as the M-19 Movement. And that group made peace with the government in 1991. And since then, Petro has been in all the government positions you can imagine - congressman, senator, mayor of Bogota. And his platform is pretty much based on decreasing social and economic inequalities. And what he believes is that the state can play a big role in decreasing those inequalities. So he wants to increase taxes on corporations, raise import duties on food that can be produced in Colombia to give local farmers and advantage. So it's - in one way, it's quite a traditional kind of left-wing platform that he's running on.

FLORIDO: I understand he's also been very critical of the drug war and the Colombian military.

RUEDA: Yes, absolutely. He's described sort of the U.S.-led war on drugs as a failure. And so what you might see with Petro as president is a higher focus on investing in rural areas to give the farmers their alternatives to growing these illegal - in these isolated rural areas.

FLORIDO: Well, tell us about Rodolfo Hernandez. He's been described as a right-wing populist, similar in style to Donald Trump. Is that a fair characterization?

RUEDA: Well, I think in terms of character, he's somewhat similar to Trump. You know, he said lots of off-the-cuff statements that are offensive to different groups of the population. So, for example, you know, in an interview last week, he said that he would prefer that women stay at home and take care of the children, but that this can't happen because the economy is in such bad shape. In that way, maybe he's similar to Trump, but he's different in that he's coming to this election on his own without the support of a major political party, based on a very anti-corruption message. You know, his platform is basically, let's go after corruption. And what he believes is that there's enough money in the states to take care of social problems as long as waste and corruption are reduced.

FLORIDO: Is there a clear favorite?

RUEDA: There's not a clear favorite. In most polls, both candidates are within one percentage point of each other. And the problem in Colombia is that you can only publish polls until one week prior to the election. So it's going to be a very tight election, which might generate some problems if one of the candidates doesn't accept the results.

FLORIDO: I've been speaking with reporter Manuel Rueda from Bogota, Colombia, about Sunday's presidential election. Manuel Rueda, thanks for joining us.

RUEDA: Yes, absolutely. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.