Colombians pick new president; French decide National Assembly balance in Sunday votes

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Colombia will select a new leader Sunday as Gustavo Petro, a former rebel and longtime senator looks to become the country’s first leftist leader in a race against construction magnate Rodolfo Hernandez. Photo by Luca Piergiovanni/EPA-EFE

June 19 (UPI) — Colombian voters will make a choice between a leftist and a businessman for their new president, while French President Emmanuel Macron seeks to maintain a grasp on parliament as both nations head to the polls Sunday.

Sunday’s elections will see Colombia select a new leader as Gustavo Petro, a former rebel and longtime senator looks to become the country’s first leftist leader in a race against construction magnate Rodolfo Hernandez, while Macron faces efforts from France’s far left and far right to block a parliamentary majority that would allow him to freely enforce his agenda.

Colombia

Hernandez and Petro were neck and neck in polling as voters took to ballot boxes.

Hernandez cast his ballot in his hometown of Bucaramanga to chants of “Long live Rodolfo!” from supporters as he entered the polling station.

The trip marked a rare public appearance for the surprise candidate who held no rallies and agreed to a public debate with Petro only after being ordered to by court.

Hernandez, a former mayor, has been compared with other right-wing populists who have found success in recent years, such as former U.S. President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and has faced criticism for assertions that he wishes to dismiss the legislative branch and declare a state of emergency as soon as he is elected and for for voting against the peace agreement in the 2016 national plebiscite.

Petro cast his vote in Bogota, the nation’s capitol, where young voters expressed their support for him in his third presidential bid.

“The youth is more inclined toward revolution,” Ingrid Forrero, 31, told The New York Times. “Toward the left, toward a change.”

Petro has based his platform around agrarian reform, progressive taxation, ecological clean energy, sustainable economic development and state investment in public education and healthcare.

However, political opponents of Petro contend that his presidency could transform Colombia into “another Venezuela” characterized, as they see it, by a dictatorial regime that pushed the country into a humanitarian and economic crisis.

France

Macron’s centrist coalition hopes to maintain control of France’s National Assembly in the second round of the parliamentary elections after pulling mostly even with the leftist New Ecological and Social Popular Union, or NUPES, coalition led by far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round last week.

Sunday’s races mostly consist of runoff votes between two candidates that advanced past the initial round last week.

Polls indicate Macron’s Ensemble coalition will win 255-305 seats, while NUPES could secure 140-200.

Without a 289-seat majority, Macron would require support from other parties to push through reforms such as raising the retirement age, cutting taxes and reforming benefits.

“They didn’t think the left and Greens could get together — it would be chaos and catastrophe,” NUPES spokesman Ian Brossat said during a rally. “But the chaos today is economic, with food prices going up. We’ve got 10 million people in poverty.”

Macron also faces a challenge from presidential runner-up Marine Le Pen’s far-right party that was expected to secure 23-49 seats.

Le Pen, who is expected to maintain her own parliamentary seat, was soundly defeated by Macron in the presidential race but urged voters to ensure “Macron is denied a majority in parliament.”

“The second round offers us the opportunity to send a very large group of patriotic lawmakers to the new National Assembly,” she said after the first round last week.

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