Colombia Election Results Cast Doubt Over Future of FARC Peace Deal

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Recent congressional elections in Colombia brought victory to a slate of candidates opposed to a 2016 peace deal between the government and the now-demobilized FARC rebel group, creating serious uncertainty about the future of the accords ahead of a presidential election later this year.

The March 11 vote garnered 19 seats in the 100-seat senate for the Democratic Center (Centro Democrático) party, led by vocal peace deal critic and former President Álvaro Uribe, making the party the dominant force in the upper house of congress.

The Radical Change Party (Partido Cambio Radical), which is also opposed to the peace process, won the second-most seats in the senate, with 16.

The Social Unity Party (Partido Social de Unidad) — the political vehicle of President Juan Manuel Santos, who has championed the peace deal during his two terms in office — saw its previous position as the most powerful force in the senate severely diminished. The party won only 14 seats in the upper house, reducing it to the fifth-most represented.

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Santos’ party faired slightly better in elections for the lower house of congress, winning 25 seats out of a total of 163. And the Liberal Party (Partido Liberal), which also supports the peace deal, won the most seats, with 35.

However, the Democratic Center and Radical Change parties won 32 and 30 seats, respectively, giving the top anti-peace parties a slight edge over the pro-peace bloc.

Perhaps the most emblematic example of Colombian voters’ rejection of pro-peace deal candidates was the disastrous showing by the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común – FARC), the political party formed by the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia – FARC).

The FARC political party had widely been expected to garner little electoral support, but the party secured just over 85,000 total votes — much worse than expected. Regardless of the poor results, the FARC will have representation in the next congress, as the peace agreement guaranteed the former guerrillas five seats in each house.

Primary voting also took place to select candidates for the first round of a presidential election scheduled for May. Democratic Center candidate Iván Duque won the primary for his coalition. Gustavo Petro, the fomer mayor of Bogotá who supports the FARC peace deal, won the primary for his coalition.

The FARC candidate for the presidential election, former top guerrilla leader Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, alias “Timochenko,” dropped out of the race last week due to health problems.

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Opposition to the FARC peace deal seemed to be a winning electoral strategy in the recent vote, suggesting that the presidential election could also bring victory to a candidate opposed to the peace process.

The combination of a legislature and executive branch dominated by opponents of the FARC peace deal would not bode well for the future of the accords, and could deepen the existing problem of dissidence among former FARC fighters. (A law was approved last year that was intended to protect the peace deal from being politically undermined, but its vagueness raises questions about how effective it could be.)

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Even under the current government, which supports the peace process, the implementation of the accords has run into a number of roadblocks. Opponents of the deal managed to defeat an October 2016 referendum on a previous version of the peace deal, and have used various avenues to try to impede the new accord’s progress.

Once the new anti-peace slate of candidates takes office, these efforts can be expected to intensify. If an opponent of the peace deal wins the presidency, it’s possible the entire process could be seriously slowed down, if not completely scrapped.

This is likely generating uncertainty among the ranks of demobilized FARC guerrillas, many of whom have already defected from the peace process in order to pursue various criminal activities. Some dissidents are being recruited into the ranks of other criminal groups, such as the Urabeños. Others are forming new criminal structures, known as the ex-FARC mafia.

The ex-FARC mafia are already poised to become the most powerful criminal force in Colombia. If their ranks swell further with deserters concerned about the future of the peace process, that development will only be accelerated.

*This article was written with assistance from Parker Asmann and Sergio Saffon.

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