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Sign for the National Registry for the legislative elections
Image: Imago/Agencia EFE

Colombia picks presidential candidates

March 11, 2018

A right-wing opponent to the peace deal will face off against a leftist former mayor for the Colombian presidency in May. The primaries were held alongside legislative elections which allowed former rebels to stand.


Polls closed on Sunday in Colombia's highly contested parliamentary election, the first of its kind since President Juan Manuel Santos finalized a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

"We can say, with a lot of pride, that these elections are the most peaceful, the most transparent … in the recent history of the country," said Santos after casting his vote.

Read more: In Colombia, peace remains elusive one year on

Santos, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for ending a decades-long civil war, urged Colombian citizens to strengthen the country's democracy and "get out and vote." Santos, who signed the peace agreement with the FARC in November 2016, is stepping down as president in August after two terms. 

Full results were expected Monday but it was clear by Sunday night who voters had chosen from the right-wing and leftist coalitions as candidates to contest the presidential election in May, following primaries held in parallel to the legislative vote.

The country tends to have a low turnout rate alongside an average of 18 percent of votes invalidated in parliamentary elections since 2000, according to figures from the Sweden-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

Only 15 million ballot papers were printed for an electorate of 36 million for the primaries.  "Due to budget problems, not all cards were printed," elections registrar Juan Carlos Galindo told reporters. He said he had approved the use of photocopies where cards had run out. 

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos
President Juan Manuel Santos has urged Colombians to exercise their democratic rights by votingImage: Getty Images/AFP/R. Arboleda

Anti-peace deal Duque to face leftist Petro in May

Ivan Duque of the Democratic Center party won the right-wing primary on Sunday taking more than 3.9 million votes, with 96 percent of ballots counted. He will lead the hardline opposition to the peace deal which allowed the FARC rebels to take part in the elections, with a guarantee of five seats in the Senate and five in the lower house.

A close ally of former President Alvaro Uribe, Duque is a lawyer who wants to see the deal with the rebels renegotiated.

Former-mayor of the capital Bogota, the leftist Gustavo Petro will oppose Duque in the May presidential vote. He won 2.8 million votes in his primary on Sunday. He is in favor of the peace deal and is proposing a "social economy" for Colombia with increased taxes for the rich.

"Our results were very positive" Petro told his followers after hearing of the first results. "The presidential campaign starts today."

The first round of the presidential election is set for May 27, with the runoff planned for June 17.

'Crucial moment'

In a bid to rebrand as a political party after shedding their combat gear, FARC changed their name to the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, which stays true to their Spanish-language acronym.

Despite a disastrous campaign that witnessed rebels-turned-politicians mobbed by angry crowds, some FARC candidates remained hopeful of their prospect in the country's legislature.

Read more: Colombia struggles to accept guerrillas' new political role

"I think this is a crucial moment for Colombia," said former rebel commander Pablo Catatumbo, who is running for Senate. "It's the first time in my life that I have voted and I doing so for the sake of peace."

However, the former rebels will likely fail to garner more seats than the 10 seats allocated to them under the terms of the peace deal. First results on Sunday indicated they had taken less than 0.5 percent of the overall vote. Their projected low performance is in part due to public outrage at the atrocities they committed throughout the conflict.

Conservatives rising 

Former-President Uribe heads the hardline Democratic Center party and some projections place the conservative camp with an absolute majority in parliament.

Conservatives have opposed the FARC peace deal. Analysts believe that a conservative government could try to block part of its implementation, including agrarian reform and a truth and reconciliation deal.

Read more: FARC deal leaves Colombians out to dry

"The mere fact of not applying what has been signed would be enough for this agreement to be ineffective," said Frederic Masse, a Colombian conflict expert at the Bogota-based Externado University.

In 1964, FARC rebels launched an insurgency against the Colombian state in response to the government's brutal suppression of a peasant uprising. The ensuing conflict left more than 250,000 people dead, seven million displaced and 50,000 missing.

Ian Duque
Ivan Duque, who is planning to run as a presidential candidate under the Democratic Center party, has threatened to modify the peace accord if he comes to powerImage: Getty Images/AFP/R. Arboleda

ls/sms (AFP, dpa, AP)

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