Colombia to guarantee safe election with 80,000 security force

Petro rally in Bogotá's Plaza de Bolívar/Colombia Humana

Some 80,000 members of Colombia’s Armed Forces and National Police are in charge of protecting citizens across the nation from security risks during the presidential election on Sunday, May 29.

As polls opened in Embassies and Consulates across the world on Monday (with one exception, the Colombian Embassy in Beijing, closed with COVID-19 restrictions), close to 1 million Colombians residing overseas are eligible to cast their ballots this week, and before 39 million compatriots cast their votes between 8:00am and 4:00pm on Sunday. In total, 84,000 voting booths will be set up in urban centers, 16,000 in rural communities, and more than 1,300 in host nations.

As the countdown begins to one of the most contested – and politically divisive – elections in Colombia’s recent history, the ballot includes six presidential candidates, and their respective vice-presidential tickets.

The candidates are Rodolfo Hernández and vice-presidential formula Marelen Castillo of the Anti-Corruption Governors League; John Milton Rodríguez and Sandra de las Lajas Torres for Colombia Justa Libres; Federico Gutiérrez and vice-presidential candidate Rodrigo Lara from Equipo por Colombia; Sergio Fajardo and Luis Gilberto Murillo for Centro Esperanza coalition; Enrique Gómez Martínez and VP Carlos Cuartas Quiceno of Salvación Nacional; Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez for Pacto Histórico.

On Monday evening, three of the front running candidates – Gustavo Petro, Sergio Fajardo and Federico Gutiérrez – participated in an extensive debate hosted by the country’s largest newspaper El Tiempo, Semana magazine and Bogotá-based CITY TV. The debate was marked by Petro’s first appearance in a televised debate in over two months, and watched by an audience of 400,000.

After tense opening words between progressive candidate Gustavo Petro and center-right candidate “Fico” Gutiérrez, the debate melded into an informal, off-the-cuff exchange of ideas on wide-ranging issues, including pension reform, agricultural subsidies, transition to alternative energies and support for the 2016 peace accord signed with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla.

Reaching across ideological lines to find some common ground on how to tackle issues that affect the households of everyday Colombians, including rising inflation and access to higher education, the debate also thrust to the forefront the urgency to get back to the issues-at-large, and put an end to smear campaigns based in personal attacks, fake news and fear mongering.

The debate, however, couldn’t side-step Petro’s most recent accusation that on Tuesday, unnamed government entities would announce the suspension of the May 29 election, and according to the politician and former mayor of Bogotá, a “coup” orchestrated to the autocratic government of President Iván Duque.

Tuesday, however, came and went without the anticipated “golpe de estado,” with well-known columnists and opinionators, such as Felipe Zuleta Lleras, mockingly stating on social media: “Good morning, how is everyone doing with the ‘coup’?” or David Ghitis: “Does Petro know if the ‘coup’ is in the morning or afternoon?” Even 87-year-old Senatorial candidate Alicia Franco, posted on her Twitter feed: “I’ve been sitting in my living room all day, waiting for the ‘coup’ to happen.”

As Colombia’s mercurial election campaign begins to return to some degree of normal, candidates are dedicating their final days to interviews and private meetings with close advisors. But security concerns exist despite all candidates having ended their public appearances. According to Bogotá’s Ombudsman – La Personería de Bogotá – the Colombian capital faces a “moderate security risk” of possible vandalism on election day, and one of “high risk” in four localities: Ciudad Bolívar, Usme, Kennedy and Teusaquillo.

“More than 350 officials are going to be the guardians of democracy, monitoring 253 polling stations and 3,740 tables in seven locations of the capital – Santa Fe, San Cristóbal, Bosa, Usme, Teusaquillo, Sumapaz, Barrios Unidos, as well as in Corferias,” said the district’s Personero – Ombudsman – Julián Pinilla Malagón. The public official also highlighted that the right to vote will be guaranteed to those deprived of their liberties, those who have not been convicted, currently held in detention centers and police stations. Braille cards will also be available at all polling stations for persons with visual impairment.

A ban on the sale of alcohol will be enforced as from 4:00 pm on Saturday to midnight on Monday. All persons caught drinking in public areas or stopped by police and suspected of being intoxicated face immediate arrest.