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Colombian Leftist Petro Scores Decisive Victory in Presidential Primaries

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By Luis Jaime Acosta and Oliver Griffin

BOGOTÁ (Reuters) – Gustavo Petro, the front-runner for Colombia’s May presidential election, secured the nomination of the left-wing coalition Historical Pact during primary voting on Sunday.

Centrist Sergio Fajardo and right-wing Federico Gutiérrez, both former mayors of Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city, also earned nominations from their respective coalitions.

Petro, a former guerrilla with the rebel group M-19, and Gutiérrez, a civil engineer, came out far ahead of their coalition rivals.

In the primaries of the Historical Pact, Petro obtained more than 80% -some 3.5 million votes- with around 80% of the informed precincts. Gutiérrez won more than 54% – around 1.7 million votes – in the primaries of a coalition that represents a sector of Colombia’s right, with around 80% counted.

The contest for the centrist grouping was much closer. Fajardo, a mathematician, got just under 33%, or about 590,000 votes, with 80% counted.

Voters also cast ballots for 108 senators and 187 lower house seats.

Colombia’s congress has been divided among a myriad of parties in recent elections, forcing presidents to build large coalitions to pass laws. Full legislative results are expected on Monday.

The right-wing Democratic Center party of current President Iván Duque has already selected Oscar Iván Zuluaga as its presidential candidate.

Petro lost to Duque – whose term ends in August – in the second round of the 2018 presidential election.

Some voters at a polling place south of the capital, Bogotá, told Reuters they voted for Petro, also a former senator, hoping to see job creation.

“I want us to have more work, for it to be easier to get a formal job,” said Alberto López, 31, an unemployed Petro supporter.

Others said an eventual centrist victory could help counter polarization.

“We cannot continue to be trapped between Petro and whoever Uribe chooses,” said textile merchant Alicia Chavarro, 46, referring to former President Álvaro Uribe, whose influence was key in the elections of the last two Colombian presidents.

Residents of the 167 municipalities most affected by the country’s long conflict voted to elect 16 war-victim representatives.

Its seats, in place for two legislative terms, were agreed upon under a 2016 peace deal between the government and the now-demobilized FARC guerrilla.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta and Oliver Griffin; Additional reporting by Carlos Vargas; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Aurora Ellis, Marguerita Choy, and Kenneth Maxwell)

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