Tue, Mar 13, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Peace deal backers suffer in Colombia congress vote

AP, BOGOTA, Colombia

Colombian voters turned to right-wing parties critical of the country’s peace deal with the main leftist rebels and knocked the Colombian president’s party down in congressional elections, raising questions about the future of the accord.

Sunday’s vote was seen as a barometer for a fiercely contested presidential election in May.

It was also the first time former members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) competed politically since disarming under the 2016 peace deal to end a half-century of conflict.

As expected, support for their radical agenda was soundly rejected, with FARC candidates getting less than 0.5 percent of the overall vote. That means their political party would get only the 10 seats guaranteed them by the peace accord.

“The FARC are in a tough spot,” said Leon Valencia, a former combatant who now runs the think tank Peace and Reconciliation Foundation. “A long war has generated lots of fear and rancor toward them.”

By contrast, many of the accord’s critics picked up seats, with the Democratic Center party led by former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe headed to being the biggest bloc in the Colombian Senate.

Uribe’s hand-picked presidential candidate, Colombian Senator Ivan Duque, easily swept an open primary among three conservative candidates in which more than 5.8 million people voted — a bigger haul than either of the top two finishers got in the first round of the 2014 presidential election.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ coalition, which supported the peace deal, struggled.

His own Party of National Unity, which was the biggest political movement in the outgoing Congress, finished fifth overall.

The results are likely to lead to a last-minute scramble among presidential candidates to form coalitions to better position themselves ahead of what is seen as a wide-open presidential race.

Two candidates under pressure to join forces are Humberto de la Calle, who was the Colombian government’s chief peace negotiator, and former governor Sergio Fajardo.

Both candidates have vowed to implement the peace deal.

The Green Alliance, one of the parties supporting Fajardo, doubled its vote tally from the last congressional elections, though it only came in sixth overall this year.

Another candidate who has backed the peace deal is Gustavo Petro, a leftist former mayor of Bogota who has promised to raise taxes on the rich and unseat the country’s political establishment.

Petro on Sunday won a leftist primary in which he got 2.8 million votes. It was 1.2 million votes less than Duque’s total, but still made him a top presidential contender.

“Our results were very positive,” Petro told his followers. “The presidential campaign starts today.”

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