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Colombia election raises questions over peace deals

media Right-wing parties led by former president Alvaro Uribe, a major opponent of the peace agreement with the Farc, won the largest share of votes in Sunday's legislative elections in Colombia. Reuters/Carlos Julio Martinez

In Colombia, partial results from Sunday’s general election showed the largest vote share going to right-wing parties opposed to a historic 2016 peace deal with former rebel group Farc. While that deal looks secure, the election result could still affect its future, as well as talks with other groups.

While results had not yet been finalised on Monday morning, no party came close to winning control of either the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate, meaning there is no major shakeup of who sits in Congress.

Sunday’s voting also determined candidates for a presidential vote on 27 May, with the two main contenders being Ivan Duque for the centre-right Democratic Centre and Gustavo Petro of left-wing coalition Decencia.

While there is some concern about polarisation over the deal arising in the presidential campaign, the outcome is unlikely to destabilise the political situation.

“It’s a very democratic country, despite the history of violence, and people would look very appallingly on any president that tried to bypass Congress,” says Victor Bulmer-Thomas, associate follow at Chatham House in London.

“So it’s very evenly balanced, both in terms of congressional seats and in terms of the expected support for the two main candidates for the presidency.”

Concerns over Farc deal

As such, the Farc deal remains mostly secure, even if changes in the executive would call some aspects into question.

“The bloc in the Senate that wants peace is still very strong, so even if a vary anti-peace-deal president gets in, he will struggle to pass legislation against the peace deal,” says Giancarlo Morelli, who analyses Colombia with the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“I would be worried more about the implementation of the deal, for example, because it might suffer more setbacks, it might be delayed in some areas, the implementation of reforms might take a bit longer if a right-wing candidate wins the presidency.”

Less certain are the direction of talks with the country’s second-largest rebel group, the ELN, which is currently observing a ceasefire.

“The current government was trying to make a deal, but they weren’t able,” says Morelli.

“That will be one of the challenges for the coming president, and if the president is centre-right, I think he will have more to say about what happens to the ELN than what happens to the Farc.”

Farc enters parliament

The former Farc rebels themselves only received about a third of a percentage point of the popular vote, which analysts say is not as a surprise.

But part of the peace deal was to give them five member in each house of parliament, which is not enough to be a major force, but enough to include them in the political process.

“In previous attempts to integrate former guerrillas, not the Farc but other guerrilla groups like M19, the lack of political presence that led some supporters to feel that the only way forward was a revolutionary and violent one,” says Victor Bulmer-Thomas.

“That’s no longer the case, because the Farc does have a stake in the political future, and there may be moments when the support of the five members they will have in each house turns out to be crucial for certain votes.”

Bulmer-Thomas says much of their future of the Farc depends on how that role evolves.

“There’s a reasonable chance, and perhaps we shouldn’t put it any higher than that, that this is the beginning of a long integration into the normal political process.”


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