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Controversial Vote Leaves Little Change in Colombia Congress

14 March 2018

Right-wing parties bitterly opposed to a peace deal with leftist former rebel group FARC were leading Colombia's legislative elections Sunday but were set to fall short of a majority in Congress, partial results showed, AFP reprots. Two approaches far from which Colombians will choose one.

Colombia's former FARC rebels will not field a candidate in the country's May presidential election as its hopeful, Rodrigo Londono, battles heart problems, the group said on Thursday.

Voters, analysts and even Santos himself have scoffed at the group's decision to keep its infamous Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia by naming its political party the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force.

"In my 64 years, this is the first time I am exercising my right to vote, and I am very happy and very moved to do so for the reconciliation of our country", Torres said via Twitter.

While no party came close to winning control of either the lower house or Senate, with results still not finalized early on Monday, Duque's Democratic Center party was polling the largest number of votes for the Senate, with more than 2.5 million, and was running second in votes for the lower house.

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.

"As leader, but above all as a human being, I cannot give up doing everything I can, until I have exhausted every recourse, so that no more lives are lost, no more people are injured or mutilated, no more damage is inflicted on infrastructure or wildlife due to the conflict with the ELN", Santos said in a televised address.

The choice to back candidates until now best known by Colombians for gun battles, kidnapping for ransom and setting land mines, is seen by many as a missed opportunity for the FARC to reinvent itself. "And that can only be achieved by talking", he said, adding he hoped the two sides could agree to another ceasefire. "It is not necessarily bad for the peace process that the FARC did not get many votes - the first step is to normalise their participation in politics".

"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. The peace deal failed in a referendum, but eventually passed through Congress.

"This is what we must stop", Santos said. "Whatever happens, I'm not going back to war".

Sunday's primaries - in which Duque won nearly 42 percent more votes than Petro did - were considered a better test of voter support than often inaccurate opinion polls, although some voters will have participated strategically and may not back either victor in the presidential vote.

The polls serve as a preview for presidential elections in May, and a strong right-wing showing could put the peace deal at risk.

Controversial Vote Leaves Little Change in Colombia Congress