Colombia elects first woman mayor of Bogota

Bogota (AFP) –


Claudia Lopez, a symbol of the fight against corruption in Colombia, became the first woman to be elected mayor of Bogota on Sunday.

The 49-year-old anti-graft campaigner was competing in the first local elections since a historic peace deal to end an armed insurgency that plagued the country for half a century.

Lopez first stepped into the national spotlight after helping to expose links between Colombian lawmakers and right-wing paramilitary groups.

She was briefly forced to flee the country after the scandal came to light but returned to be elected senator in 2014 and stood as a vice presidential candidate in last year's national elections.

Lopez won the mayoral poll with just over 35 percent of the vote in a narrow triumph over liberal Carlos Fernando Galan.

"Not only did we win, but we're changing history," Lopez said on Twitter after her win.

The victory for Lopez, who is openly gay and claims humble origins, in the capital city of 7.2 million people is a significant step forward in a country used to being led by male elites.

"Being a woman is not a fault, being a headstrong woman, firm... is not a fault. Being gay is not a fault, being a girl from a modest family is not a fault," Lopez told AFP last week.

More than a third of the 116,000 candidates for mayor, governor and local assembly posts nationwide in Sunday's elections were women.

President Ivan Duque lauded the elections for attracting the "largest number of candidates in history."

But the poll was still beset by violence, according to an independent election monitoring group.

Since nominations closed in the last week of July, seven candidates were assassinated, 88 threatened, 12 targeted in attacks and one abducted, the Electoral Observation Mission said.

- Referendum -

The vote was largely seen as a referendum on the right-wing Duque and his Democratic Center party, led by his mentor Alvaro Uribe -- the country's leader from 2002-10 who has been embroiled in an investigation over alleged witness tampering.

Coalition candidates opposing Democratic Center dominated Sunday's vote, winning two-thirds of municipal seats according to the Interior Ministry.

Duque made revising the country's 2016 peace deal a centerpiece of his election campaign last year, claiming the agreement was too lenient towards the left-wing former guerrilla movement FARC.

The insurgent group reorganised itself as a political party after the peace accord and Sunday was the second time it took part in elections.

After a dismal showing in last year's legislative elections, the ex-insurgents won a majority in only one municipal government in Colombia's southwest.

In the country's north, former guerrilla Guillermo Torres -- known as the "FARC singer" for his performances of traditional Colombian "vallenato" folk music -- won the mayoralty of Bolivar department for a left-wing coalition.