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Future of FARC peace deal at stake as Colombia chooses next president

John Vizcaino, AFP | A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Bogota during the first round of the presidential election in Colombia on May 27, 2018.

Colombians vote in the second round of presidential elections on June 17, with a choice between the favourite Ivan Duque, a right-winger who wants to revise the FARC peace deal, and Gustavo Petro, a left-wing populist.


Sunday’s election is crucial for a country polarised over the 2016 peace deal with guerrilla group FARC.

Ivan Duque’s presence in the final round is far from a surprise. Considered the favourite after winning 39 percent of the vote in the first round, he is the protégé of former conservative President Alvaro Uribe, a staunch opponent of the FARC deal. If Duque wins on Sunday, the 41-year-old will become the youngest president in Colombia’s recent history.

>> Read more: Colombia signs new peace deal with FARC while critics cry foul

Petro – a former guerrilla in the disbanded M-19 militant group, who is in favour of the FARC deal – is the first left-wing candidate to get into the final round of a presidential election, after winning 25 percent of the vote in the first stage.

Scramble for other parties’ votes

For decades, divisions within the Colombian left – and the role of Marxist guerrillas who rejected participation in elections – have hindered its chances at the ballot box.

But Petro told AFP that he has managed to get into the final round because Colombians “have been able to detach themselves from the politics of hate and the fear created by war”.

Both candidates have tried to use the two-round system to make sure they get the backing of candidates and parties that were eliminated in the first stage of voting.

Duque seems to have done a better job of this than his opponent, winning the support of both the centrist Liberal Party and the far-right Cambio.

Petro, on the other hand, is struggling to gain support from other parties. He wrote a letter to Humberto de la Calle, the Liberal Party’s candidate and one of the architects of the accords with FARC, proposing that they join forces – the only way of saving the peace deal, according to Petro. But de la Calle instead encouraged his voters to vote for neither Duque nor Petro.

Even more importantly, centrist Sergio Farjado, who scored 24%, just one point behind Petro, in the first round of voting, has also called on Colombians to vote for neither of the two candidates on offer. This suggests that the final round will see a significant increase in the abstention rate.

According to Colombian human rights lawyer Tatiana Dangon, abstention will be a way for voters to show their dissatisfaction with the two candidates on offer. “Even if it isn’t recognised or respected by the current voting system, abstention is a signal, saying that Colombians are tired of the status quo and are demanding change,” she told FRANCE 24.

Polarised country

That said, Duque is keen on change. He has vowed to eradicate “the cancer of corruption” and to use right-wing, pro-business policies to turbocharge Colombia’s economic growth, with a particular focus on attracting foreign investment. But most notably, Duque wants to revise the peace deal with FARC and to send any of the group’s guerrillas who are guilty of serious crimes back to prison, as well as preventing them from standing for parliament, despite FARC’s conversion into a non-violent political party.

The peace deal was initially rejected in an October 2016 referendum, although then President Juan Manuel Santos pushed through a revised version in November of the same year. It won Santos the Nobel Peace Prize, but also a record 80 percent disapproval rating.

“Whoever becomes president, the biggest challenge will be to put forward a clear position on the peace deal, because at the moment we’re in limbo,” Fabian Acuña, a professor of political science at Colombia’s Javeriana University, told AFP.

While Uribe has promised that if his side wins, the peace deal will be “shattered”, Duque has a more subtle way of speaking than his mentor, advocating “structural changes”. But these changes would put the most sensitive aspects of the peace deal at risk – after it has already been undermined by the proliferation of militant splinter groups opposed to any rapprochement with the government.

For his part, Petro not only intends to implement the FARC agreement, but also wants to pursue further talks with another guerrilla group, the ELN – one of the last militant organisations still active in Colombia.

With the country more divided than ever, the next president will take office on August 7, Colombia’s Independence Day. Whether it is Duque or Petro, he will face the difficult task of bringing the country together at the same time as helping it move on from a brutal war – one which has left 8 million people either dead, missing or displaced over the course of 50 years.

This article has been adapted from the original in French

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