Voter turn out was steady Sunday across Colombia as citizens headed to their voting stations to elect a presidential candidate for a four year term starting August 7th 2014.
After months of campaigning and a handful of last-minute televised debates, 32 million registered voters had their say today as polls opened at 8:00 a.m.
The five candidates who ran for the nation’s top post were: Juan Manuel Santos (National Unity), Óscar Iván Zuluaga (Centro Democrático party), Clara López (Polo-UP), Enrique Peñalosa (Green Alliance) and Marta Lucía Ramírez (Conservative Party).
The outcome of the elections will have a decisive impact on the future of the peace talks currently taking place in Havana, Cuba, between the negotiating team of incumbent president Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas.
The FARC and smaller National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas pledged to respect a unilateral ceasefire for the elections, and one in effect until Wednesday. Some 411.000 security forces were in place to maintain tranquility and order on election Sunday.
Three international entities – the Union of South American Nationas (Unasur), the Organization of American States (OAS) and Union of InterAmerican Union of Electoral Organisms (UNIORE) – monitored the electoral process as Colombians placed their votes at 89,389 voting desks distributed across 1,102 municipalities.
Colombians have been able to vote overseas since last Monday. Voting at embassies and consulates in 64 nations ended Sunday at 4 p.m.
Some 600,000 Colombians were eligible to cast their vote in other countries. In Washington D.C., 14,000 Colombians were registered to vote Sunday at 32 desks. By midday Sunday, 28,647 ballots were cast.
In Bogotá some 5.2 million voted Sunday.
Bogotá’s mayor Gustavo Petro opened election day in the capital by hoisting the city’s flag over the historic and emblematic Plaza de Bolívar.
Good weather was reported Sunday across the nation and boosted voter turn out.
The city’s main fair ground, Corferias received some 570,000 voters and long lines formed early near Corferias and Unicentro.
The National Police strengthened its security presence around Corferias to prevent possible disturbances. By midday Sunday, no arrests were reported by the National Police.
As voting booths opened the director of Colombia’s National Civil Registry, Carlos Ariel Sánchez, stated that some 30.000 Colombians had already cast their vote overseas.
President candidate Juan Manuel Santos cast his ballot minutes after booths officially opened in the Plaza Bolívar stating to citizens: “Colombians should have absolute trust in the transparency of these elections.”
Both Santos and former president Alvaro Uribe Vélez were early risers, among the first statesmen to vote.
Left-wing candidate Clara López, after casting her vote at the Panamerican University remarked: “I hope thousands of Colombians, like me, will vote for change.” She then proceeded to the Voto Nacional church in downtown Bogotá to give thanks.
Accompanied by his family, Green Party (Alianza Verde) candidate Enrique Peñalosa stated after casting his vote at the Konrad Lorenz University in Bogotá’s Chapinero neighborhood that “Colombia must be nation free of corruption.”
After casting his ballot at a busy voting station in Bogotá’s north, Centro Democrático candidate Óscar Iván Zuluaga told journalists that “We have always acted on behalf of the truth.”
At 11:00 am, Conservative Party candidate Marta Lucia Ramirez cast her vote in Altos de San Isidro, Bogotá, saying: “Good bye old nation of corruption, social exclusion and political machinery.”
The Ministry of Defense noted early morning that Colombia is “tranquil and calm.”
By 9:30 am, not a single attack by an armed group had been reported, making the 2014 election the most peaceful in decades. By mid morning the Minister of Defense,Juan Camilo Pinzón reaffirmed the positive security situation stating that the 2014 elections were “the safest in years.”
The National Registry Office began announcing the first official bulletins within minutes after all voting booths closed at 4 :00 pm.
By 5:10 p.m the National Civil Registry had counted 96% percent of the total votes giving Colombians a definite idea that there will be run off election on June 15th.
By 9:00 pm, the National Civil Registry had 99,97% of the desks counted (Bulletin 59) putting Zuluaga with 29,25%, Santos 25,69%, Ramírez 15,52%, López 15,23% and Peñalosa 8,28%.
Both Clara López and Green Party candidate Enrique Peñalosa accepted their defeat honorably Sunday.
Clara López met with her campaign team upon receiving the results to study possible alliances ahead of June 15th. She remarked to her followers that “I have consolidated a new left, a modern left for everyone.”
Trailing Zuluaga in votes, President Juan Manuel Santos addressed the nation stating that on June 15th, Colombians would have to decide “between the past and the future.” He also congratulated his opponent Zuluaga on his strong results. The 55 year-old former Minister of Finance won resoundingly with overseas voters. Back at home, abstentionism was high with 61% of potential voters deciding not to vote.
The nation’s leader speaking from his Bogotá campaign headquarters invited Conservative Party candidate Marta Lucía Ramirez, the Polo’s Clara López and Enrique Peñalosa to adhere to his “crusade for peace.” He also invited Oscar Iván Zuluaga for a debate “with stature” during the weeks leading up to the second and final election round.