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Ex-rebel wins runoff to be Colombia's 1st leftist president

A child sits in the "Rodolfoneta" holding a national flag during a caravan showing support for presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez a day ahead of...
FILES - This combination of photos shows Colombian presidential candidates: Gustavo Petro, left, on June 17, 2018; and Rodolfo Hernandez, on June 2, 2...
Mauricio Hernandez looks out from a line of hanging T-shirts and caps featuring his father, presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez that are on displ...
A supporter holds a candle during a Mass in honor of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in B...
Supporters attend a Mass in honor of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in Bucaramanga, Colom...
Supporters attend a Mass in honor of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in Bucaramanga, Colom...
A boy poses for a photo during a caravan showing support for presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez a day ahead of the country's presidential run-of...
A supporter rolls up a poster featuring presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in Bucaramanga, Co...
Police ride past a caravan supporting presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in Bucaramanga, Col...
A supporter places on his motorbike a decal featuring presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in ...
A supporter places on his motorbike stickers featuring presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in ...
Caps featuring presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez are displayed for sale ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in Bucaramanga, Colombia, ...
T-shirts and caps featuring presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez are displayed for sale ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in Bucaramang...
An empanada vendor pushes his cart past campaign posters of Francia Marquez, the running mate of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, of the Historic...
Rodolfo Hernandez, presidential candidate with the Anti-corruption Governors League, shows his ballot before voting during a presidential runoff in Bu...
Presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, of the Historical Pact coalition, attends a meeting with physically handicapped persons in Bogota, Colombia, Wed...
Voters line up at a polling station during a runoff presidential election in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldarriaga)
A voters marks his ballot during a presidential runoff election in Bucaramanga, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)
A nun chooses her candidate during a runoff presidential election in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldarriaga)
Voters line up at a polling station during a runoff presidential election in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldarriaga)
Police frisks a voter at the entrance of a polling station during a presidential runoff in Bucaramanga, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Iva...
Gustavo Petro, presidential candidate with the Historical Pact coalition, shows his ballot before voting in a presidential runoff in Bogota, Colombia,...
Rodolfo Hernandez, presidential candidate with the Anti-corruption Governors League, shows his ballot before voting during a presidential runoff in Bu...
A voters marks his ballot during a presidential runoff election in Bucaramanga, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)
Rodolfo Hernandez, presidential candidate with the Anti-corruption Governors League, leaves a polling station after voting in a presidential runoff in...
Supporters of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, with the Historical Pact coalition, display cuts off his face outside the polling station where he...
Rodolfo Hernandez, presidential candidate with the Anti-corruption Governors League, shows his ballot before voting during a presidential runoff in Bu...
Gustavo Petro, presidential candidate with the Historical Pact coalition, waves as he leaves a polling station accompanied by his daughter Andrea afte...
A supporter holds photos of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, with the Historical Pact coalition, outside the polling station where he voted in a ...
Supporters of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, with the Historical Pact coalition, celebrate at his election night headquarters in Bogota, Colomb...
Supporters of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, with the Historical Pact coalition, celebrate after his candidate won a presidential runoff in Bog...
Supporters of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, with the Historical Pact coalition, celebrate after his candidate won a presidential runoff in Bog...
Confetti explode over screen showing photos of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, left, and his running mate Francia Marquez after they won a runof...
A woman chooses her candidate during a runoff presidential election in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldarriaga)
A view of Corferias the main polling station in Bogota, Colombia, during a runoff presidential election, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldar...
A man votes during a presidential runoff in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldarriaga)
Soldiers guard the main polling station during a presidential runoff election in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldarriaga)
Supporters of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, with the Anti-corruption Governors League, cry after former leftist rebel Gustavo Petro won a ...
A supporters of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, with the Anti-corruption Governors League, cries her candidate lost to former leftist rebel ...
Former rebel Gustavo Petro, left, his wife Veronica Alcocer, back center, and his running mate Francia Marquez, celebrate before supporters after winn...
A supporter celebrates after former leftist rebel Gustavo Petro won a runoff presidential election in Cali, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo...
Supporters of former rebel Gustavo Petro celebrate after he won a runoff election in Bucaramanga, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Ivan Vale...
Supporters celebrate after former rebel Gustavo Petro won a runoff election in Bucaramanga, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)
Confetti explode over a screen showing photos of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, left, and his running mate Francia Marquez after they won a run...
A supporter of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, with the Anti-corruption Governors League, cries in Bucaramanga, Colombia, after her candidat...

A child sits in the "Rodolfoneta" holding a national flag during a caravan showing support for presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez a day ahead of...

FILES - This combination of photos shows Colombian presidential candidates: Gustavo Petro, left, on June 17, 2018; and Rodolfo Hernandez, on June 2, 2...

Mauricio Hernandez looks out from a line of hanging T-shirts and caps featuring his father, presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez that are on displ...

A supporter holds a candle during a Mass in honor of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in B...

Supporters attend a Mass in honor of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in Bucaramanga, Colom...

Supporters attend a Mass in honor of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in Bucaramanga, Colom...

A boy poses for a photo during a caravan showing support for presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez a day ahead of the country's presidential run-of...

A supporter rolls up a poster featuring presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in Bucaramanga, Co...

Police ride past a caravan supporting presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in Bucaramanga, Col...

A supporter places on his motorbike a decal featuring presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in ...

A supporter places on his motorbike stickers featuring presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez a day ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in ...

Caps featuring presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez are displayed for sale ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in Bucaramanga, Colombia, ...

T-shirts and caps featuring presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez are displayed for sale ahead of the country's presidential run-off, in Bucaramang...

An empanada vendor pushes his cart past campaign posters of Francia Marquez, the running mate of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, of the Historic...

Rodolfo Hernandez, presidential candidate with the Anti-corruption Governors League, shows his ballot before voting during a presidential runoff in Bu...

Presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, of the Historical Pact coalition, attends a meeting with physically handicapped persons in Bogota, Colombia, Wed...

Voters line up at a polling station during a runoff presidential election in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldarriaga)

A voters marks his ballot during a presidential runoff election in Bucaramanga, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

A nun chooses her candidate during a runoff presidential election in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldarriaga)

Voters line up at a polling station during a runoff presidential election in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldarriaga)

Police frisks a voter at the entrance of a polling station during a presidential runoff in Bucaramanga, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Iva...

Gustavo Petro, presidential candidate with the Historical Pact coalition, shows his ballot before voting in a presidential runoff in Bogota, Colombia,...

Rodolfo Hernandez, presidential candidate with the Anti-corruption Governors League, shows his ballot before voting during a presidential runoff in Bu...

A voters marks his ballot during a presidential runoff election in Bucaramanga, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

Rodolfo Hernandez, presidential candidate with the Anti-corruption Governors League, leaves a polling station after voting in a presidential runoff in...

Supporters of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, with the Historical Pact coalition, display cuts off his face outside the polling station where he...

Rodolfo Hernandez, presidential candidate with the Anti-corruption Governors League, shows his ballot before voting during a presidential runoff in Bu...

Gustavo Petro, presidential candidate with the Historical Pact coalition, waves as he leaves a polling station accompanied by his daughter Andrea afte...

A supporter holds photos of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, with the Historical Pact coalition, outside the polling station where he voted in a ...

Supporters of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, with the Historical Pact coalition, celebrate at his election night headquarters in Bogota, Colomb...

Supporters of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, with the Historical Pact coalition, celebrate after his candidate won a presidential runoff in Bog...

Supporters of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, with the Historical Pact coalition, celebrate after his candidate won a presidential runoff in Bog...

Confetti explode over screen showing photos of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, left, and his running mate Francia Marquez after they won a runof...

A woman chooses her candidate during a runoff presidential election in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldarriaga)

A view of Corferias the main polling station in Bogota, Colombia, during a runoff presidential election, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldar...

A man votes during a presidential runoff in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldarriaga)

Soldiers guard the main polling station during a presidential runoff election in Bogota, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Jaime Saldarriaga)

Supporters of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, with the Anti-corruption Governors League, cry after former leftist rebel Gustavo Petro won a ...

A supporters of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, with the Anti-corruption Governors League, cries her candidate lost to former leftist rebel ...

Former rebel Gustavo Petro, left, his wife Veronica Alcocer, back center, and his running mate Francia Marquez, celebrate before supporters after winn...

A supporter celebrates after former leftist rebel Gustavo Petro won a runoff presidential election in Cali, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo...

Supporters of former rebel Gustavo Petro celebrate after he won a runoff election in Bucaramanga, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Ivan Vale...

Supporters celebrate after former rebel Gustavo Petro won a runoff election in Bucaramanga, Colombia, Sunday, June 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia)

Confetti explode over a screen showing photos of presidential candidate Gustavo Petro, left, and his running mate Francia Marquez after they won a run...

A supporter of presidential candidate Rodolfo Hernandez, with the Anti-corruption Governors League, cries in Bucaramanga, Colombia, after her candidat...

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Former rebel Gustavo Petro narrowly won a runoff election over a political outsider millionaire Sunday, ushering in a new era of politics for Colombia by becoming the country's first leftist president.

Petro, a senator in his third attempt to win the presidency, got 50.48% of the votes, while real estate magnate Rodolfo Hernández had 47.26%, with almost all ballots counted, according to results released by election authorities.

Petro's victory underlined a drastic change in presidential politics for a country that has long marginalized the left for its perceived association with the armed conflict. Petro himself was once a rebel with the now-defunct M-19 movement and was granted amnesty after being jailed for his involvement with the group.

“Today is a day of celebration for the people. Let them celebrate the first popular victory,” Petro tweeted. “May so many sufferings be cushioned in the joy that today floods the heart of the Homeland.”

Petro issued a call for unity during his victory speech and extended an olive branch to some of his harshest 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.”

Outgoing conservative President Iván Duque congratulated Petro shortly after results were announced, and Hernández quickly conceded his defeat.

“I accept the result, as it should be, if we want our institutions to be firm,” Hernández said in a video on social media. “I sincerely hope that this decision is beneficial for everyone.”

Colombia also elected its first Black woman to be vice president. Petro’s running mate, Francia Márquez, is a lawyer and environmental leader whose opposition to illegal mining has resulted in threats and a grenade attack in 2019.

The vote came amid widespread discontent over rising inequality, inflation and violence — factors that led voters in the election's first round last month to turn their backs on long-governing centrist and right-leaning politicians and choose two outsiders in Latin America’s third-most populous nation.

Petro’s showing was the latest leftist political victory in Latin America fueled by voters’ desire for change. Chile, Peru and Honduras elected leftist presidents in 2021, and in Brazil, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the polls for this year’s presidential election.

“What I do think it shows is that the strategy of fear, hate and stigmatization towards the left no longer works as a policy to win voters,” said Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst for Colombia at the firm International Crisis Group.

But the results were an immediate reason to fret for some voters whose closest reference to a leftist government is the troubled neighboring Venezuela.

“We hope that Mr. Gustavo Petro complies with what was said in his government plan, that he leads this country to greatness, which we need so much, and that (he) ends corruption,” said Karin Ardila García, a Hernández supporter in the north-central city of Bucaramanga. “That he does not lead to communism, to socialism, to a war where they continue to kill us in Colombia. ... (H)e does not lead us to another Venezuela, Cuba, Argentina, Chile.”

About 21.6 million of the 39 million eligible voters cast a ballot Sunday. Abstentionism has been above 40% in every presidential election since 1990.

Petro, 62, will be officially declared winner after a formal count that will take a few days. Historically, the preliminary results have coincided with the final ones.

Several heads of state congratulated Petro on Sunday. So did a fierce critic, former President Álvaro Uribe, who remains a central figure in Colombia’s politics.

Polls ahead of the runoff had indicated Petro and Hernández — both former mayors — were in a tight race since they topped four other candidates in the initial May 29 election. Neither got enough votes to win outright and headed into the runoff.

Petro won 40% of the votes in the initial round and Hernández 28%, but the difference quickly narrowed as Hernández began to attract so-called anti-Petrista voters.

Petro has proposed ambitious pension, tax, health and agricultural reforms and changes to how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups. But he will have a tough time delivering on his promises as he does not have a majority in Congress, which is key to carrying out reforms.

“The people who do support him have very high hopes, and they are probably going to be disappointed pretty quickly when he can’t move things right away,” said Adam Isacson, an expert on Colombia at the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.

“I think you might find a situation where he either has to strike some deals and give up a lot of his programs just to get some things passed or the whole country could be gridlocked,” Isacson added.

Petro is willing to resume diplomatic relations with Venezuela, which were halted in 2019. He also wants to make changes to Colombia's relations with the United States by seeking a renegotiation of a free trade agreement and new solutions in the fight against drug trafficking.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the Biden administration looks forward to working with Petro.

Hernández, who made his money in real estate, is not affiliated with any major political party and rejected alliances. His austere campaign, waged mostly on TikTok and other social media platforms, was self-financed and based mostly on a fight against corruption, which he blames for poverty and the loss of state resources that could be used on social programs.

Polls say most Colombians believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and disapprove of Duque, who was not eligible to seek reelection. The pandemic set back the country’s anti-poverty efforts by at least a decade. Official figures show that 39% of Colombia’s lived on less than $89 a month last year.

The rejection of politics as usual “is a reflection of the fact that the people are fed up with the same people as always,” said Nataly Amezquita, a 26-year-old civil engineer waiting to vote. “We have to create greater social change. Many people in the country aren’t in the best condition.”

But even the two outsider candidates left her cold. She said she would cast a blank ballot: “I don’t like either of the two candidates. ... Neither of them seems like a good person to me.”

___

Garcia Cano reported from Caracas, Venezuela.