Anti-FARC hardliner Duque closes on Colombia presidency

Bogota (AFP) –


Ivan Duque was on course Sunday to become Colombia's youngest president after winning the first round of an election fought largely over the future of the peace deal with former rebel group FARC.

A 41-year-old senator, Duque will face his leftist rival Gustavo Petro in a run-off election on June 17.

He campaigned on a ticket to rewrite the peace deal signed with former rebel movement FARC by the outgoing president Juan Manual Santos.

A lawyer with a degree in economics, Duque represents many Colombian voters left outraged by concessions given to the former rebels.

If elected, he has promised to make "structural changes" to the 2016 agreement that led to FARC's disarmament and conversion into a political party.

"What we Colombians want is that those who have committed crimes against humanity be punished by proportional penalties, which is incompatible with political representation, so that there is no impunity," Duque told AFP during the campaign.

Latin America's longest-running conflict left more than 260,000 people dead, nearly 83,000 missing and some 7.4 million forced from their homes.

- Uribe puppet? -

Duque has railed against the Colombian left, voicing fears that they would drag the country into the same economic quagmire as neighboring Venezuela.

The left in turn accuse him of being a puppet of Uribe, the former two-term president who took a hard line against the left when he was last in power eight years ago.

"Nobody knows if he has his own criteria or if he will obey orders," said Fabian Acuna, a political analyst at Cali's Javeriana University

Although a newcomer to politics -- he has been a senator since 2014 -- politics is in his blood.

Born in Bogota on August 1, 1976, his father was a liberal politician.

But it was Juan Manuel Santos, the incumbent president, who took him under his wing in the 1990s as a financial advisor. Later he worked for 13 years for the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank.

Today he finds himself in opposition to Santos over the peace deal.

"He is very dynamic when it comes to public relations, very clever," said a source who worked with him at the IDB.

While working in the United States, he met Uribe who persuaded him to run for the senate in 2014.

"Ivan is very intelligent and I'm sure he has a bright future ahead of him," wrote Uribe in his 2012 book "No Lost Causes".

But, "a president must have experience, autonomy, political capacity, all missing with Ivan, who is, as everyone admits, a good little guy," said Roy Barreras, a senator for Santos' party.

A father of three, he used to play bass in a rock band, but his relaxed image contrasts sharply with his conservative ideals -- a staunch opponent of gay marriage, euthanasia and the decriminalization of drugs.

He is strongly supported by the far-right as well as an increasingly influential evangelical Christian bloc.