Colombians vote in elections seen as test for peace deal

In a ballot that marks the electoral debut of the FARC political party, made up of former members of the rebel group, Colombians went to the poll Sunday (March 11) in party primaries to select the candidates who will compete in May's election to replace outgoing center-right President Juan Manuel Santos.

"We can say, with a lot of pride, that these elections are the most peaceful, the most transparent ... in the recent history of the country", said Santos after casting his vote.

A significant lead in votes for Colombian right-wing candidate Ivan Duque over leftist Gustavo Petro in presidential primaries pushed the peso up against the dollar on Monday as investors bet Duque would be more business friendly that the former guerrilla candidate.

Gustavo Petro, a former Bogota mayor who is seeking to become conservative Colombia's first leftist president, will oppose him after winning almost two million votes, 85 per cent of the poll, in his primary. The leftist parties also performed better on the Pacific coast, while both coalitions were virtually tied in Bogota, Colombia's capital city.

The party hopes to win many more seats and backed 23 candidates for Senate and 51 for the lower house. The goal now: "to win", Petro wrote in a Tweet Sunday night.

Petro was officially elected as the presidential candidate of the Decencia (Decent) coalition of progressive parties, which includes his own Human Colombia Movement, the Independent Social Alliance and the Indigenous and Social Alternative Movement (MAIS). That means their political party, also called FARC, will get only the 10 seats guaranteed them by the peace accord. "The presidential campaign starts today".

After disbanding a year ago, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) converted to a political party with the same initials.

The former FARC commander was unlikely to have garnered many votes from Colombians, many of whom believe its leaders should be in prison, not running for office.

"In my 64 years, this is the first time I am exercising my right to vote, and I am very happy and very moved to do so for the reconciliation of our country", Torres said via Twitter. Their projected low performance is in part due to public outrage at the atrocities they committed throughout the conflict.

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 polarized the South American country.

But the strong performance of Mr Uribe's party - which vehemently opposed the terms of the peace deal - is indicative of the divided attitudes in the country.

Since the Farc took up arms against the state in 1964, some 220,000 people were killed and over seven million displaced.

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