At the end of a campaign with an execrable atmosphere, the very last polls published a week ago gave the finalists neck and neck, an unprecedented situation and which announces a second round “at the finish”, according to the local press .

Nearly 39 million voters are expected between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. local time (1 p.m. and 9 p.m. GMT) in 12,500 polling stations to decide between two “anti-establishment” candidates who, for the first time, seem to embody “significant political change”, judge Carolina Jimenez, director of the political science department at the National University.

Sunday evening, Senator Petro, an ex-guerrilla converted to social democracy and former mayor of Bogota could become the first left-wing president in the history of Colombia.

Or the leadership of the country could be entrusted to the unclassifiable millionaire Hernandez, ex-mayor of a large northern city, qualified surprise who put the right out of the race in the first round by promising to finish with the “thieves” and “bureaucracy”.

– “Trash” campaign –

Mr. Petro, 62, came out on top in this first round on May 29, with 40% against 28% for Mr. Hernandez, 77, and a participation of 55%. Between them, they have defeated the conservative and liberal elites who have monopolized power for two centuries.

The real estate magnate, however, immediately received support from the traditional right and its tutelary figure, ex-president Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010).

These last three weeks of the “trash” campaign – another expression of the press – have been marked by invectives, accusations of all kinds, disinformation, espionage… with a race for shallots on both sides to show themselves the most ” close to people”, via the essential social networks.

“In me you will find a gladiator,” Hernandez swore this weekend. “I will reduce the size of the state, put an end to corruption and replace the incapable and corrupt officials placed by previous governments. (…) There will be no more squandering of Colombians’ money,” he said. proclaimed on Twitter the one who boasts of “saying things bluntly”.

The “king of TikTok” or the “old man”, as he also likes to be called, has announced a whole catalog of -sometimes surprising- measures, ranging from the abolition of official cars for parliamentarians to the reduction of VAT% to the legalization of marijuana.

His left rival promises a “progressive” program in favor of “life”, with a stronger state, more taxes for the rich or even the energy transition.

“The country needs social justice to be able to build peace (…) that is to say less poverty, less hunger, less inequality, more rights”, he repeated on Saturday .

– Concerns –

The election takes place “after a social rebellion and in a context of deep economic crisis, of major crisis of legitimacy of the institutions”, recalls Ms. Jimenez.

The four years in office of conservative incumbent Ivan Duque, who could not stand for re-election, saw little substantive reform.

They were marked by the pandemic, a severe recession, massive anti-government protests that were harshly repressed, and an increase in the violence of the many armed groups that rage in the countryside and compete for drug trafficking.

Despite the country’s thirst for change, the two candidates are worrying part of the electorate. “There’s a substantial group of voters who don’t like the huge uncertainty that both Petro and Hernandez represent,” observes Michael Shifter of the Interamerican Dialogue think tank.

Hernandez has “little experience at the national level, has spoken little about how he is going to govern, he has no representative in Congress (…)”, points out Patricia Ines Munoz, political scientist at the University of Javeriana.

With Petro, “the concern comes from the experience of left-wing governments in the region (…)”, particularly in neighboring Venezuela. “It arouses a lot of fear among some citizens, but also among businesses and certain economic sectors.”

The “first task” of the next president will however be to “recompose this fractured society (…). Neither of the two will be able to govern alone, without taking into account the other half of the country and those who did not vote”, emphasizes Ms. Munoz.

Nearly 320,000 police and soldiers will provide security for the ballot, under the watchful eye of many international observers. As in the first round, which took place calmly, the results are expected in the evening.