Elections in Colombia live: Voting and pre-counting after polls close

attributed to him…Natalia Angarita for The New York Times

Rodolfo Hernandez, the construction mogul turned social media star who emerged as a surprise candidate in the Colombian presidential election, has been largely absent from public life in recent weeks.

He refused to attend debates and did not hold rallies, opting instead for the live broadcasts organized by his team on social media.

But on Sunday, when the polls opened, Hernandez got off a white car in his hometown of Bucaramanga, among his bodyguards, before an excited crowd of voters.

“Long live Rodolfo!” his supporters shouted. Many rushed to see the candidate entering the polling station.

Hernandez made his way through the group with a wide smile. His opponent, Gustavo Petro, the old senator and former rebel trying to become the country’s first leftist president, has voted, more than 400 kilometers to the south, in the capital, Bogota.

In Bucaramanga, the city where Hernandez made his fortune and was mayor, his candidacy created political enthusiasm and deep regional pride among voters who say they think he represents them.

Carlos Gamboa, a 42-year-old trader, was among the group of voters waiting in line when Hernandez arrived to vote.

“The vast majority of us are with Rodolfo,” he said, adding that he distrusted Petro, in part due to the time the candidate was a member of the M-19 rebel group.

Hernandez worked on an anti-corruption platform, despite being accused of corruption, accused of pressuring his subordinates to award a municipal contract to a particular company, a deal that would have benefited his son.

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He said he is innocent.

At the polls in Bucaramanga, many voters seemed unconcerned about accountability.

“Nobody who comes to power here will be clean. Rodolfo is the least corrupt,” said Gilma Becerra, 58.

In Bogotá, on Sunday morning, Adriana Martinez, 24, was already standing outside a high school in the working-class neighborhood of El Sucego.

She had just finished her night shift as a health administration assistant and went straight to the polling station by bus.

Martinez said he supports Petro, and that his decision was particularly influenced by his selection of Francia Marquez as vice president, who could become the country’s first black woman vice president.

Márquez, an environmental activist who rose from poverty to become a national phenomenon, spoke on the campaign trail about race, class and gender in a straightforward manner rarely heard at the highest levels of Colombian politics.

“He’s someone who comes from where we came from. From below, he’s had to struggle to be where he is,” Martinez said.

Martinez said he gave little weight to the argument that Petro’s policies would lead to the same kind of economic, humanitarian, and democratic crises that occurred in Venezuela.

In Colombia, “one no longer has enough money to buy potatoes. In this sense, we are already living in extreme poverty.”

At the same polling place, Ingrid Forero, 31, said she has noticed a generational divide in her community, with younger generations supporting Petro and older generations in favor of Hernandez.

Her family called it a “guerrilla” for her support of Petro, who she said favored her because of his policies on education and unequal pay.

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“Young people are more inclined to revolution, to the left, to change,” he said.

Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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