Colombia’s Farc fails to win single seat in congressional elections

Former guerilla group faced its first electoral test since signing peace deal in 2016

Ivan Duque of the Centro Democratico party is a front-runner in May’s presidential election. Photograph: Reuters/Carlos Julio Martinez

Ivan Duque of the Centro Democratico party is a front-runner in May’s presidential election. Photograph: Reuters/Carlos Julio Martinez

 

Colombia’s former guerrilla movement the Farc suffered a mauling on Sunday in its first electoral test since signing a peace agreement in 2016 that saw it end over a half-century of armed conflict.

The Marxist group, now transformed into a political party called the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, failed to take a single seat in congressional elections as it polled less than one per cent on a day where the big winner was a hard-right critic of the peace accords.

Despite this, the group will sit in the new legislature thanks to five seats reserved for it in both the senate and lower house of representatives until 2026 under the terms of the peace deal.

Farc candidates had faced widespread popular anger on the campaign trail that forced it to suspend its election effort, citing the risk to the personal safety of its candidates. Many Colombians are furious that the group’s leaders are not in jail for the human rights abuses and kidnapping campaign they oversaw during the civil war.

Sunday’s electoral setback came hard on the heels of the group’s announcement that it will not contest May’s presidential election after its principle leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, withdrew his candidacy after undergoing heart surgery.

The front-runner in that race is now senator Iván Duque, who swept to victory in the presidential primaries held simultaneously with the congressional vote. He won an unexpectedly large victory over two more moderate rivals to become the candidate of the main right-wing coalition.

Combined, the right-wing primary candidates attracted close to double the number of votes cast for those contesting the left-wing one, which former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro won easily as expected.

Corruption allegations

Mr Duque’s victory comes despite the fact that his political mentor, former president Álvaro Uribe, is facing an estimated 300 investigations over allegations of human rights abuses and corruption, mostly linked to his eight years in power from 2002. He was returned to the senate with the largest vote of any candidate.

The former president’s brother Santiago Uribe is on trial for his alleged role in founding an illegal right-wing paramilitary group linked to dozens of murders. During his presidency, Mr Uribe secured the demobilisation of right-wing paramilitaries but this failed to end violence against human rights and social activists, including campaigns of targeted assassinations.

Mr Duque has said he will not rip up the peace deal but wants to toughen up the terms agreed by outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos and the Farc so that former guerrillas involved in drug trafficking cannot participate in politics. That potentially could lead to the exclusion of most of the Farc leadership, which came to rely heavily on Colombia’s cocaine trade to finance its war.

Sunday’s voting patterns indicate Mr Duque will likely face a run-off round in June with mr Petro, himself a former guerrilla of the left-nationalist M-19 group, which demobilised in the late 1980s.