Pre-vote polls show former rebel Gustavo Petro ahead so far as Colombians vote for their next leader in a country facing rising poverty and insecurity.

A recent poll showed that 75 percent of Colombians believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and only 27 percent approve of incumbent Ivan Duque.
A recent poll showed that 75 percent of Colombians believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and only 27 percent approve of incumbent Ivan Duque. (AP)

Colombians will vote for their next president, choosing from six candidates who all promise various degrees of change amid rising inequality, inflation, violence and a discontent with the status quo.

The ballot includes former rebel Gustavo Petro, who could become Colombia's first leftist president on Sunday if he can get 50 percent of the votes needed to win in the first round. 

If no one gets more than half the votes, a runoff between the top two candidates will be held. Pre-vote polls show Petro ahead but failing to get 50 percent.

Behind him are a populist real estate tycoon promising monetary rewards for tips on corrupt officials and a right-wing candidate who has tried to distance himself from the conservative current president, Ivan Duque.

In addition, this is the second presidential election since the government signed a peace agreement with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC.

However, the divisive agreement was not a central campaign issue as matters like poverty and corruption garnered attention.

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Campaign promises

It will be Petro's third attempt to be the South American country's president. He was defeated in 2018 by Duque, who is not eligible for re-election.

His victory would usher in a new political era in a country that has always been governed by conservatives or moderates while marginalising the left due to its perceived association with the nation’s armed conflict. 

He has promised to make significant adjustments to the economy, including a tax reform, as well as changes to how Colombia fights drug cartels and other armed groups. 

Petro's main rival for most of the campaign has been Federico Gutierrez, a former mayor of Medellin who is backed by most of Colombia’s traditional parties and ran on a pro-business, economic growth platform.

Gutierrez has promised to fight hunger with the extension of subsidies and public-private alliances so that 10 tonnes of food that go to waste each year are destined for the poorest.

Official figures showed that 39 percent of Colombia’s 51.6 million residents lived on less than $89 a month last year, which has a slight improvement from the 42.5 percent rate from 2020.

Meanwhile, the country’s inflation reached its highest levels in two decades last month.

The other candidates on the ballot are real estate tycoon Rodolfo Hernandez, Sergio Fajardo, former mayor of Medellin and candidate for the centre coalition; Christian leader John Milton Rodriguez; and the conservative Enrique Gomez.

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Source: AP