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Colombia's Farc fails to win single seat in congressional elections

Sunday's electoral setback came hard on the heels of the group's announcement that it will not contest May's presidential election after its principle leader, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, withdrew his candidacy after undergoing heart surgery.

But se elections have also served as primaries - in parallel referenda - for left and right blocs before presidential election on May 27.

It is significant that in upper house victor has been Democratic center, conservative training of former president Álvaro Uribe, very critical of peace agreement reached with guerrilla. Left-wing candidate Gustavo Petro, who has 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.

Many see yesterday's voting mainly as a test of the strength of Colombia's parties ahead of May presidential elections.

The former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are now the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, a leftist political party that has candidates running for congressional seats.

President Juan Manuel Santos' coalition, which supported the peace deal, struggled. He is in favor of the peace deal and is proposing a "social economy" for Colombia with increased taxes for the rich. Petro won a leftist primary Sunday in which he got 2.8 million votes.

Colombian forces have killed 34 rebels in fighting since the ceasefire ended on January 9, while rebels have launched repeated attacks, killed 19 members of the armed forces and halted pumping of crude oil with bomb attacks.

Despite a disastrous campaign that witnessed rebels-turned-politicians mobbed by angry crowds, some FARC candidates remained hopeful of their prospect in the country's legislature.

"It's the first time in my life that I've voted and I do it for peace", said Pablo Catatumbo, a former FARC commander who was assured a senate seat.

While all candidates advocate clamping down on corruption and investment in education and health, the two top pollers differ in their views on a peace deal with Marxist FARC rebels.

The Farc, who kept their acronym when they transformed from an insurgency into a political party, took a meagre 0.33% of the vote.

The Peace and Reconciliation Foundation said that 65 politicians tied to corruption scandals could win seats due to their ability to buy votes in rural and impoverished areas. Analysts believe that a conservative government could try to block part of its implementation, including agrarian reform and a truth and reconciliation deal. More than 50 party members and relatives have been killed since the accord was signed, the group says.

"There are no big changes, there are adjustments", Frederic Masse, an expert in armed conflict and the peace process at Externado University, told AFP.



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