Colombia’s conservative Democratic Center party took control of the upper house of Congress and captured the presidential nomination in a primary open to all right-wing political parties on Sunday, a sign Colombians have shifted rightward since President Juan Manuel Santos legalized the FARC terrorist group last year.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist U.S.-designated terrorist organization, rebranded as the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force party following the signing of a peace deal that guarantees them ten uncontested seats in Congress. Those seats are secure for representatives of the narco-terror organization despite their abysmal showing at the polls.
The FARC withdrew its presidential candidate, terror chief “Timochenko,” from the ballot last week after he suffered a heart attack, citing his need to recover from open-heart surgery.
Iván Duque, the Democratic Center’s presidential candidate and a stern critic of the legalization of the FARC, received nearly four million votes in the Great Conference for Colombia’s primary. That primary was open to the nation’s right-of-center parties.
On the left, Gustavo Petro of the Progressivists Movement party won the Social Inclusion for Peace primary, the leftist primary, with 2.7 million votes. Petro, Reuters notes, is a former mayor of the nation’s capital, Bogotá and a former member of a Marxist guerrilla.
Nearly ten million people voted in the primary in total, but analysts note that the over one million vote surplus for Duque over Petro in their respective primaries indicates that popular momentum is on the conservatives’ side. This despite the fact that opinion polls do not yet find a clear winner. The latest El Tiempo poll found Duque leading with 23.6 percent of the vote over Petro’s 23.1 percent.
This is the first year that Colombia employs a multi-party primary election system, meant to streamline the debate and mimic the nation’s former two-party system. Colombian presidential politics were largely controlled by the establishment Liberal and Conservative parties for decades until conservative former mayor of Medellín Álvaro Uribe became president. Uribe went on to found the Democratic Center and remains a senator.
On Sunday, Uribe received more votes than anyone on any senatorial ballot, according to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. As president, Uribe took a hard line against the FARC, successfully using the nation’s alliance with the United States to import counterinsurgency tactics the U.S. was using in the Middle East to target FARC leaders. The strategy forced the terrorist organization’s leaders into exile in Havana, where Uribe’s successor, Juan Manuel Santos, met them and agreed to a peace deal that grants them a presence in national politics.
The Democratic Center fared the best of any party in the Senate, receiving 2.5 million votes. Uribe opted to forego a parliamentary vote and instead have each of his party’s members appear on the ballots by name, rather than having the party’s name on the ballot and granting party leaders the right to choose who gets which seats.
The party placing second, Radical Change, is also a relatively new right-leaning party, suggesting the upper chamber of Congress will be overwhelmingly controlled by conservative forces even as five members of the FARC—none of them elected—enter the legislature. El Tiempo notes that Radical Change will receive 16 seats in the Senate, up from 9 in 2014; Democratic Center will have 19.
Conservatives did not succeed in taking the lower chamber of Congress. There, the left-wing Liberal Party received 2.1 million votes, according to Reuters. The news agency notes that Democratic Center received two million votes, however, coming in at a close second.
The FARC’s tumultuous debut in the polls would likely not have ended with the terrorist group having any representation in Congress were it not for Santos’ “peace deal,” which grants them five seats in each chamber. The Santos deal lost in the polls in 2016, but Santos passed the deal through Congress despite a constitutional requirement for a “yes” via public referendum shortly thereafter. The FARC’s chances of electoral success appeared poor throughout the campaign last month, as angry crowds met presidential candidate “Timochenko” and pelted his campaign team with eggs and garbage. The FARC canceled campaign events for this reason before “Timochenko” announced his severe health problems.
On Sunday, the FARC received less than one percent of the national vote for Congress.