Left hopes for historic win in Colombia's 'change election'

Left hopes for historic win in Colombia's 'change election'

Colombians go to the polls Sunday in a deeply polarized election that could see a leftist -- and ex-guerrilla -- become president for the first time in the history of the violence- and inequality-plagued country.

A year after a brutal security crackdown on street protests fueled by deepening socio-economic woes, many voters are pinning their hopes on former Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro to bring about much-needed change.

With promises of correcting a litany of social ills, Petro, 62, leads in opinion polls, with 47-year-old Federico Gutierrez, representing an alliance of right-wing parties, lagging in second place.

But in a country marked by a deep-rooted fear of the political left -- associated with guerrilla groups that sowed decades of misery -- the push-back against Petro has been fierce, with rivals seeking to paint him as a radical, Hugo Chavez-style populist.

The campaign has been marred by suspicions of fraud following counting irregularities reported in a primary voting round in March.

Petro and Gutierrez have both received death threats, as has the leftist's running mate Francia Marquez, who could become Colombia's first ever black woman vice president.

Incumbent President Ivan Duque -- who beat Petro in a runoff election in 2018 -- is leaving with record disapproval numbers. Colombian presidents serve only one term. Around 40 percent of Colombia's 50 million people live in poverty, and the country has one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world, according to the World Bank.

Another key concern is violence that has flared up again despite a 2016 peace agreement that officially ended a near six-decade civil conflict.

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