Colombian election: conservative parties take lead

Sergio Conner
March 13, 2018

However, by late Sunday voters had already chosen the candidates from the right-wing and leftist coalitions who will contest the presidential election in May, following primaries held in parallel to the legislative vote.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his legacy on the peace deal with the Farc, lauded the vote as "the most peaceful that Colombia has had in recent history".

"We join President Santos' call to restart talks, with the conviction that it is better to have dialogue in the midst of a bilateral ceasefire", the guerrillas said in a statement.

Santos said he instructed lead negotiator Gustavo Bell and his team to return to Quito to resume peace talks.

Santos's announcement came in response to a unilateral ceasefire by the ELN for Sunday's legislative elections, seen as a test of the group's willingness to get back to negotiations.

"We will advance with prudence, firmness and perseverance until we agree on the demobilization, disarmament and reintegration of the ELN, that is, complete peace".

"Since the bilateral ceasefire ended, there have been too many deaths on both sides, too many wounded, too many victims - this is what we must stop", Santos said in a televised address.

Those attacks occurred after a 101-day bilateral ceasefire had expired on January 9, during a break in the talks.

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The success of the conservative parties, which were opposed to the 2016 peace deal with the rebel group, raises questions about the future of the agreement.

Meanwhile, the hardline Democratic Centre party - founded by former president Álvaro Uribe and fiercely critical of the peace deal - won 15.89%, the largest share. As part of the peace agreement, the party is guaranteed 10 seats.

But "it is the only option that Santos has - try to calm the conflict with the ELN, reduce confrontation with the army to a minimum", analyst Camilo Echandia of Externado University told AFP.

"It is very important for our democracy, and that is what the peace process was about", said Santos.

Santos is due to step down on August 7 after two terms. The peace deal failed in a referendum, but eventually passed through Congress. He acknowledges talks are unpopular and has slammed the group for its attacks on the armed forces.

They said the Colombian right-wing sectors are still hanging onto Colombian former President Laureano Gomez, the ultra right-wing and Nazi sympathizer, who used to say that they "wouldn't give away in the ballot boxes what they had won in the war".

The ELN has about 1,500 fighters.

Negotiations face the pressure of elections potentially changing government leadership towards right-wing parties who have stated their intention to relaunch an offensive against the radical armed group.

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