Ex-Guerrillas Face a Drubbing in Their First Colombia Election

(Bloomberg) -- A Marxist guerrilla movement that spent five decades fighting the Colombian state faces its first democratic test as a political party Sunday. Polls show it will receive a drubbing.

Candidates for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, which handed in its weapons to UN monitors last year, will get less than one percent of the vote for the senate, according to a poll published by El Tiempo newspaper on March 4.

Ex-Guerrillas Face a Drubbing in Their First Colombia Election

“You don’t go from being a guerrilla group to a political party overnight,” said Sandra Borda, dean of the Social Sciences Department at Bogota’s Jorge Tadeo Lozano University. “It would surprise me if they obtain a considerable number of votes.”

The FARC entered politics at a propitious time for its anti-establishment message, with corruption scandals and a weak economy making the government of President Juan Manuel Santos one of the least popular on record. Yet many Colombians still aren’t ready to forgive the rebel group for its kidnapping of civilians and bomb attacks in cities, and would sooner see its leaders in jail than in congress.

The movement is failing to win support beyond the sparsely populated regions of its old hinterland, said Jorge Restrepo, director of the CERAC research institution that monitors the conflict.

“In the best case scenario they will be locally powerful,” Restrepo said. “Nationally, they’ll be marginal.”

No matter what happens, FARC will have five seats in each house guaranteed to them for the next eight years under the terms of the peace accord.

Juice Boxes

Some conservatives, including former Inspector General Alejandro Ordonez, had said that the FARC would deploy a hidden fortune it had accrued from the cocaine trade to “buy” the election. Yet, if the FARC still has access to significant amounts of money, they don’t appear to have spent much of it on their campaign.

People attending the group’s rallies might get a juice box and a plate of rice and chicken, but there has been little sign of the lavish spending that traditionally wins elections in Colombia. 

Former President Alvaro Uribe’s Democratic Center party is set to be the biggest group in the senate, with about 20 of the 102 seats that will be decided in Sunday’s vote, according to the poll published by El Tiempo. The Liberal Party will come second, the poll found.

Colombians will elect a new president on May 27, with a likely runoff vote on June 17. Polls show that Uribe ally Ivan Duque is running neck and neck with Gustavo Petro, a former guerrilla from the now-defunct M-19 group. Petro made the transition to democratic politics nearly three decades ago, and was Mayor of Bogota from 2012 to 2015.

Polls suggest that both Duque and Petro will win primaries on Sunday, making them the official candidates for their respective factions.

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