COLOMBIA: Right-wing Parties Form New Majority In The Senate

Julian Gallo known as Carlos Antonio Lozada of the political party FARC speaks during the closing of their campaign before legislative elections in Fusagasuga


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 elections will include two presidential primaries: one for leftist candidates and another for candidates backed by conservative movements.

For the House of Representatives, the parties with the most votes were the Liberal Party (PLC), the Democratic Center (CD) of Alvaro Uribe and the Radical Change (CR) party.

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.

Many see yesterday's voting mainly as a test of the strength of Colombia's parties ahead of May presidential elections.

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Known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, Londono had been the FARC's bet to replace President Juan Manuel Santos when the latter leaves office in August, but heart surgery on Wednesday has put him out of the race.

The peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) guarantees their new political party 10 of the 280 seats in the new Congress. Both candidates have vowed to implement the peace deal.

More than 6 million votes were cast in the three-way right-wing primary and 3.5 million in the two-way left-wing contest.

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.

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.

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"It's the first time in my life that I've voted and I do it for peace", said Pablo Catatumbo, a former FARC commander who is assured a senate seat. The group is guaranteed 10 seats in the body through 2026 under the terms of the peace deal. Their projected low performance is in part due to public outrage at the atrocities they committed throughout the conflict.

Santos said the polls were "the safest, most transparent elections" in the country's recent history, with the FARC spurning jungle warfare for politics, and the ELN - the country's last active rebel group - observing a ceasefire.

Conservatives have opposed the FARC peace deal.

"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.

"For many people it is hard to swallow Farc leaders campaigning on the streets", said Kristian Herbolzheimer, a Colombia specialist at Conciliation Resources, a London-based consultancy.

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