(MENAFN - Gulf Times) Colombians went to the polls yesterday to elect a new Congress with a resurgent right, bitterly opposed to a peace deal that allows leftist former rebels to participate, expected to poll strongly.
The election is set to be the calmest in half a century of conflict in Colombia, with the former rebel movement Farc spurning jungle warfare for politics, and the ELN — the country's last active rebel group — observing a ceasefire.
Polls opened at 8am local time (1300GMT), and remained open until 4pm (2100 GMT).
'This is the first election in half a century when we voted in peace, without the Farc as an armed group, but as a political party, said President Juan Manuel Santos, who signed a peace deal with the Farc in November 2016.
The peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) guarantees their new political party 10 of the 280 seats in the new Congress.
The party uses the same Spanish acronym, which now stands for the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force, and replaced its crossed-rifles insignia with a red rose.
But opinion polls give it little chance of adding to its 10 free seats, following a disastrous campaign during which its rebels-turned-politicians were largely drowned out by a tide of public revulsion over crimes committed during the conflict.
Candidates were mobbed by angry crowds at rallies and the party had to cancel its public meetings.
'What is at stake for the Farc is positioning and the possibility of establishing itself with an eye to what really interests it politically: elections for mayor and governor in 2020, said Carlos Arias Orjuela, a political consultant at Externado University.
The fledgling party suffered a fresh blow only days before the election when its leader, Rodrigo 'Timochenko Londono, pulled out of the presidential race after undergoing heart surgery.
With the left divided, the stage is set for hardline conservatives who oppose the agreement to win an absolute majority in Congress, and push on to win the presidential election in a few months.
Opinion polls predict a triumph for ex-president and senator Alvaro Uribe and his Centro Democratico party, along with other parties opposed to the peace agreement that has polarised the South American country.
Under the peace accord, Farc disarmed its 7,000 fighters in order to join the political process, agreed to confess to wartime crimes and pay reparations to victims.
This infuriates many Colombians, in particular the right-wing, which is vowing to win the presidential election and amend the peace deal.
But much of the peace agreement has already been implemented, including the rebels disarming and demobilising.