Nerves fray as Colombia kicks off election season

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Gideon Long in Bogotá

As an armoured motorcade carrying Colombia’s leftist presidential candidate Gustavo Petro sped through the city of Cúcuta last Friday, it came under attack. A windscreen was partially shattered. Rumours spread that someone had tried to assassinate him.

On the same day, at the opposite end of the country, a crowd of students hurled missiles and insults at rightist former president Álvaro Uribe as he made a campaign speech. Mounted police moved in. Officers fired tear gas and made arrests.

Such is the febrile atmosphere in Colombia, where Sunday’s parliamentary election is a precursor to presidential polls in May. With candidates on both left and right facing voter ire, the electoral season is proving particularly poisonous, even for a nation with a notorious history of political violence.