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Colombia - Elections - 2018

Ivan Duque becomes Colombia's youngest president in the run-off election 17 June 2018, beating leftist Gustavo Petro following a campaign fought largely over the future of the government's peace deal with the former rebel group FARC. Duque won the ballot with 53.9 percent of votes while Petro, who had pledged to shake up Colombia's economic model, had 41.8 percent. The victory reassured investors but raised the prospect of changes to a landmark peace accord with Marxist rebels.

Conservative candidate Ivan Duque won the first round of Colombia's presidential election Sunday but fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. The 41-year-old senator will face former guerrilla Gustavo Petro on June 17, the first leftist candidate to contest a runoff in Colombia. Duque polled 39.7 percent of the votes, compared to Petro's 25 percent, in a poll which showed deep divisions over a peace deal with former rebel movement FARC. Turnout was a higher-than-usual 53.2 percent in a country traditionally plagued by voter apathy.

Colombia headed to the polls on 27 May 2018 for the first round of voting in the presidential elections. A second round would be held on June 17 if no candidate obtains more than 50 percent. Education, health, unemployment and inequality rank higher in concern among Colombian voters than the implementation of the peace accords with the FARC. The peace agreements with the FARC and a possible agreement with the ELN are the major issues nonetheless, with the right-wing parties attempting to capitalize on misinformation and discontent over government inefficiency, poor quality of services, inequality and corruption.

The parliamentary elections in March 2018 may shift the balance of power, making the peace process more difficult, or perhaps even reversing it. Santos cannot stand again in the presidential election in May 2018; there will have to be a run-off to decide who will follow him. The populist polemic against the peace agreement will certainly determine the election, and it remains to be seen to what extent Santos' successor will want to, or be able to, implement the agreement.

Coca crop production in areas once controlled by the FARC has also increased and peace negotiations with the country's second-largest revolutionary group, the National Liberation Army, ELN, have been put at risk due to the government's reneging on the rules and commitments signed in the bilateral ceasefire, according to the insurgent group.

The former FARC, now a political party using the same initials but renamed Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Comn (Alternative Revolutionary Force of the Common [People]), will participate in the elections following the Peace Accord with the Santos government.

Colombia is holding legislative elections March 11, when citizens will choose 102 senators and 166 representatives, and the right-wing political establishment is poised to take over Congress. Usually, common issues such as education, health, job opportunities and infrastructure are what people take into account when voting, but in Colombia public opinion focuses on two main issues: the peace process and anti-communism, reflected in the 'spectre of Castrochavismo.' The peace agreement between the government and rebel insurgent group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was at the center of public debate since the 2016 plebiscite. Most of the urban population voted against the peace process, while rural people those most affected by the armed struggle supported it.

A pro-Uribe majority Congress could backtrack on some of the peace agreements, including clauses that guarantee land restitution to those displaced by violence. The Democratic Center party, founded by Uribe and poised to become the biggest in Congress, doesn't totally oppose the peace process, but its leaders have said they're against a full amnesty on the former rebels or even allowing them to run for public office.

The right-wing political establishment, better portrayed by former President Alvaro Uribe and his supporters, has intensified a campaign discrediting left-wing and progressive movements by associating them with socialist governments such as Cuba and Venezuela, and coining the term 'Castrochavista' in reference to Fidel and Raul Castro, and Hugo Chavez.

Paramilitary violence represents one of the biggest security problems in Colombia. Since the peace agreements were signed and the FARC gave up its arms and military positions in rural and remote areas, more than 250 social leaders have been murdered while paramilitary groups and illegal loggers have taken over swathes of land and filled the resulting power vacuum. The campaign is based more on emotional divides rather than facts, leading public opinion into an accusations debate.

The Democratic Center movement, Uribe's political party, was leading the legislative polls, followed by the Conservative Party and the Radical Change: all Uribe-supporters. The only anti-establishment party that supported the peace process and has possibilities in the legislative elections is the Liberal Party. A pro-Uribe majority Congress would definitely help Ivan Duque, Uribe's candidate, which would in turn give the Democratic Center party great control over Colombian politics.

Amid numerous controversies in the voting process, Colombians went to the polls 11 March 2018 to election 166 legislators to the House of Representatives and 102 senators. While these elections were meant to be groundbreaking in that the FARC made their debut and left-of-center candidates are polling high for the upcoming presidential elections, the results gave a majority of seats to candidates fromt right-wing parties. New left-wing coalitions, including the Decent Colombia coalition which included the Democratic Pole and the Patriotic Union, gained seats, but remain minorities in both houses.

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. The CD, CR and the Conservative Party (PC) finished with the most votes for the Senator races. With 16.59 percent, the Liberals maintain the highest number of representatives in the lower house with 35 seats, while in the Senate it lost 3 seats, finishing with 12.4 percent and 14 senators. The far-right CD increased its vote to 16.05 percent and 32 seats in House of Representatives, as well as 16.42 percent and 19 spots in the Senate, making the Uribe-led party the largest in the upper house. The Radical Change party also performed well with 14.39 percent and 32 representatives in the House of Representatives and 16 senators along with 14.04 percent of those votes.

The FARC performed poorly, as expected, with only 0.5 percent of the total number of votes - but guaranteed to receive five seats in each of the two chambers of parliament.

2018 Presidential Election

The deadline for presidential hopefuls to register their candidacy is March 9. The election is scheduled to take place on May 27. Colombia's May 2018 presidential election comes amid grave discrepancies between rhetoric and reality. Despite the signing of peace accords between former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC, guerrillas and the government, at least 110 social leaders and human rights defenders have been killed in Colombia this year. In fact, as of November 2017, at least 27 former FARC combatants and 11 FARC family members have been killed.

The FARC ex-commander, Rodrigo Londoo (aka Timolen Jimnez or Timochenko) was a presidential candidate. His chances of winning the elections are not great but he definitely represents a different option if Colombians would like to seek one. Londoo has a clear advantage among farmers and indigenous people in small rural areas where the FARC had support, however, he must appeal to the urban population with clear programmatic alternatives in order to hold real chances.

The rightwing Centro Democrtico (Democratic Centre), founded by former president Alvaro Uribe, has elected Ivan Duque as its presidential candidate and has an alliance with the Partido Conservador (Conservative Party), but they both coincide in their fierce opposition to the Peace Accord and in favor of giving a tax break to multinationals.

Santos legacy is a fragile one. His peace process is very behind schedule, and many Colombians who were hoping for a quick, noticeable "peace dividend" are disappointed. The political involvement of former guerrillas, and the comparatively mild penalties imposed by the transitional justice system are highly controversial, and the opposition has no qualms in spreading terrible rumors.

Odebrecht also veered its taint onto the country's political spectrum. In August 2017, Colombian Senator, Bernardo Miguel Elias, was arrested outside of his Bogota apartment on charges that he had received bribes from Brazil's engineering and construction giant at the center of a global graft scandal.

Colombia's Attorney General, Nestor Humberto Martinez, said that government officials received US$27 million in Odebrecht bribes as the company sought to secure a road-building contract, according to Reuters.

The 2017 mass strike organized by the people of Choco state and the city of Buenaventura brought to light the pittance in public investment in traditional African-descendent and Indigenous communities. These were just some of the pressing issues that the next Colombian presidential hopeful will have to address to occupy the Palacio de Nario next year.

Humberto de la Calle, chief government negotiator who helped seal the FARC peace agreement, has announced, I want to be president. Having defeated Juan Fernando Cristo in the internal consultation by 40,881 votes, according to Colombia Reports, de la Calle will run as a Liberal Party candidate.

In June 2017, Colombia's most prominent human rights activist, former Senator Piedad Cordoba, officially announced her plans to run for president and has begun the process of collecting signatures to launch her campaign. "I announce to the country that I am going to be a candidate and I will be president of Colombia in 2018," Cordoba wrote on her official Twitter account.

In an interview with El Colombiano, the Afro-Colombian lawyer said she will focus on tackling social inequality and fighting corruption. The majority of citizens no longer feel represented by the old politics that neither talks about their problems nor resolves them, she noted. It is time to team up with society. The election of 2018 will endorse a demand for change. A renowned figure in the country and region, Cordoba is a long-time peace activist who has worked with human rights organizations on sociopolitical issues.

Left-wing candidate Gustavo Petro, who had been riding high in the polls despite an intense campaign against him, easily won the primaries for his coalition while Uribe-backed Senator Ivan Duque topped his opponent from the Conservative party by over 40 points. Despite a slight uptick in turnout, abstention remained high throughout the country with 53 percent abstention for the Senate vote and 52.4 percent for the House of Representatives.

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