Scandals, uncertainty hang over Colombia as election looms

 Just days before one of Colombia’s most consequential presidential elections in decades, the nation is on edge.

Hundreds of thousands of eligible voters are still unsure who they will cast their ballots for on Sunday, when left-wing former rebel group member Gustavo Petro takes on populist former mayor Rodolfo Hernandez.

At Paloquemado central market in the capital Bogota, 42-year-old Maria Arboleda, who sells fruit and vegetables at her stall, was among those who remain on the fence.

Like a majority of Colombians, she said she wants change but is unsure about who could better provide it. Her main worries are rising inflation, finding a good job for her son, and growing crime in the city.

“I am intrigued by what Petro says but I am worried about voting for an ex-guerrilla. I like the fact that Rodolfo [Hernandez] is not a politician, but some of the things he says also worry me and I don’t know who he will govern with.”

The Colombian presidential runoff on June 19 comes after an election cycle marked by death threats against candidates, scandals and preemptive accusations of fraud. Both contenders are promising radical change from the status quo and are in a dead heat, according to recent polls.

A victory for Petro, a former rebel with the M-19 armed group, would represent a sharp left turn after decades of conservative rule, and the first time a left-wing leader would govern the country in its history.

For many, a win by Hernandez represents an even bigger jump into the void.

An unfiltered populist businessman, he is promising to “drain the swamp” of corrupt politicians, a pledge that brings to mind other successful political candidates like Donald Trump in the United States, Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, and Nayib Bukele in El Salvador.

Either one of them will inherit a deeply divided nation, steeped in discontent and desperately demanding change and reforms.

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