One would think that Colombians would be excited about the prospect of going to the polls to elect their first post-war president in nearly half a century.
The problem is that while the 2016 peace accord between the government and FARC rebels may have won outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos the Nobel Peace Prize, the majority of Colombians are not thrilled about it.
Many say it rewards “terrorists”, while others believe it addresses the social inequalities that are the primary cause of violence on paper only.
Such dramatically different opinions about such a vital issue probably explain why among the five candidates from the far left to the far right, Colombians are likely to choose between the two options on the extremes, if opinion polls are correct.
The frontrunner is Ivan Duque, from the conservative Center Democratic Party. He is widely seen as former right-wing President Alvaro Uribe’s stand-in. Uribe, who is still extremely popular, is the most vociferous opponent of the peace deal signed with the rebels.
Duque told me that he would not destroy but modify the agreement.
“It is unacceptable that FARC kingpins who currently have immunity for crimes against humanity not be held accountable. They must tell the truth about what they did, they must compensate the victims and they must go to prison,” he said.
But many believe that if he is elected, Duque would attempt to further undermine the peace accord, and eliminate term limits to allow Uribe to eventually run again. He denies that he is Uribe’s puppet, even though he has little administrative experience and owes his candidacy mainly to the former president’s support.
“If Duque wins we will find ourselves under a tyrannical regime what represents the ultra-right wing of our country. But we won’t be surprised,” said Carlos Antonio Lozano, the former commander of FARC’s powerful Sixth Front which handed in its weapons last year.
On the other extreme is Bogota’s former Mayor Gustavo Petro, the first left-wing candidate to have a serious crack at winning the presidency.
The former M-19 rebel would do away with forced eradication of coca even though drug production has soared in the last three years. He would could crack down on paramilitary groups and powerful landowners who oppose the peace process. He promised to put land reform on fast track. Petro’s opponents, and especially the business sector, are horrified that he could win and predict that he will turn Colombia into another Venezuela.
On the eve of the election, Petro said that “an electoral fraud is in the works in Colombia” to prevent him from winning. He has presented no hard evidence.
Both of the frontrunners would take Colombia off the path set by outgoing President Santos, who is far more popular abroad than at home. His approval rating is hovering at around 15 percent.
The more moderate candidates include experienced politician and former peace accord negotiator Humberto de La Calle; the former mayor of Medellin, Sergio Fajardo; and former Vice President German Vargas Lleras, who broke with the president. All are trailing in the polls, although Vargas Lleras could pull off a surprise if the efficient political machine that backs him can mobilise enough votes.
No candidate is likely to win in the first round.