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Polls close in tight Colombia election

Tightly contested campaign in Latin America's fourth largest economy dominated by scandals and security issues.

Last updated: 25 May 2014 23:08
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The election race has been dominated by security, even at the polling booths [Chris Arsenault / Al Jazeera]

Bogota, Colombia - Polls have closed in Colombia's tightly contested presidential race, which has been dominated by security, particularly peace negotiations with leftist rebels.

"The most important issues are peace, jobs and healthcare," Ruben Dario Bedoya, a construction worker, told Al Jazeera after casting his ballot in a working-class area.

Along with high rates of general crime, Colombia - Latin America's fourth largest economy - faces an ongoing insurgency from FARC rebels, while right-wing groups and criminals battle for control of the lucrative drug trade.

More than 215,000 people have been killed and 5.7 million left internally displaced in political violence since 1968.

Polls indicate that the incumbent, 62-year-old Juan Manuel Santos, is running neck and neck with Oscar Zuluaga, 54, a conservative economist backed by the influential former President Alvaro Uribe.

"The campaign has not been about [real policy debates] but about personal vendettas instead," Fernando Giraldo, a political science professor, told Al Jazeera.

"[Santos and Uribe] come from the same political ideology, they share the same economic interests and represent the elite."

Santos supports negotiations with FARC fighters, while Zuluaga favours a return to the military approach used by Uribe prior to 2010.

Authorities have mobilised more than 167,000 members of the security forces and volunteers in preparation for Sunday's vote.

Santos and Zuluaga have similar platforms on economic issues, backing private-sector investment, as opposed to neighbouring countries such as Venezuela and Ecuador who favour state involvement in the market and wealth redistribution.

Both campaigns have been hit by serious scandals in recent weeks.

Zuluaga's campaign chief was forced to resign over a computer hacking scandal apparently aimed at undermining peace talks, while a close Santos adviser quit following allegations he received $12m from drug traffickers hoping to avoid extradition to the US.

Valvry Ramirez, a student, believes many people, particularly young voters, will spoil their ballots.

"A lot of people just don't feel like voting," she told Al Jazeera. "I am just going to cast a blank ballot; I don't trust any of them ... I don't feel safe."

If a single contender fails to win more than 50 percent of the vote - a distinct possibility - then a run-off election will be held on June 15.

Other presidential candidates, including Bogota's former mayor, Enrique Penalosa, and leftist contender Clara Lopez are trailing the two frontrunners significantly.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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