Colombia presidential vote poses test for FARC peace deal

2018-05-28 02:23:33 GMT2018-05-28 10:23:33(Beijing Time) Xinhua English

Colombians vote Sunday in a divisive presidential election likely to impact on the government's fragile peace deal with the former rebel movement FARC.

Conservative front-runner Ivan Duque has vowed to rewrite an accord he sees as too lenient on a group that waged a decades-long war of terror on Colombians, before it transformed into a political party.

With 41 percent of voter preferences, Duque takes a 12-point lead into the election over his main challenger Gustavo Petro, a leftist former Bogota mayor who backs the deal.

Petro, a former member of the disbanded M-19 rebel group, has been the surprise package in the campaign, upturning expectations in a country where presidential elections have traditionally been the domain of the right.

The 58-year-old rallied many Colombians with his campaign speeches against inequality and corruption, making him the country's first leftist candidate with a chance of going to the second round of a poll.

Neither candidate is believed to have enough momentum to win outright in Sunday's first round, making a runoff likely on June 17.

The winner will succeed Juan Manuel Santos - the president who signed the 2016 deal with the FARC and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize - when he steps down in August.

"These elections have an enormous significance for a country where hope is reborn, and we must continue to build peace," Santos, 66, said on Twitter as campaigning ended.

Duque, a gray-haired senator and former economist, is backed by the Democratic Center party of former president Alvaro Uribe, which swept the polls in legislative elections in March. If successful, he can count on the support of Congress.

Uribe fell out with once-close ally Santos over his drive for peace with FARC, setting up his own party in 2013.

Many voters see the guiding hand of Uribe behind the inexperienced Duque's campaign. Like Santos, the 65-year-old Uribe is constitutionally precluded from seeking a third term.

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