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Colombians to elect new president in first vote since FARC deal

May 27 (UPI) — Colombians went to the polls Sunday to elect a new president in the first national vote since the government signed a peace agreement with the FARC rebel group.

Ivan Duque of the conservative Centro Democrático Party and Gustavo Petro of the left-wing Colombia Humana Party are the frontrunners to replace the outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos after the end of his second and final term in office.

Polls suggest neither candidate is likely to garner the 50 percent of the vote necessary to win the election, which would prompt a run-off election on June 17.

Three other candidates, including the city of Medellin’s mayor, Sergio Fajardo, former housing minister German Vargas Lleras and government peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle, also appear on the ballot.

Former FARC rebel commander Rodrigo Londono was intended to be the group’s first presidential candidate, but he withdrew after undergoing heart surgery and wasn’t replaced.

FARC rebranded itself from Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to a political group known as the Common Alternative Revolutionary Force in 2017 as a condition of the peace deal, negotiated by de la Calle. It was also guaranteed five seats in the Senate and five in the House of Representatives.

Duque who held a 10-point lead over Petro in the latest poll conducted by Yanhass led a campaign against the FARC deal and has promised to reverse some of its provisions if elected.

Petro — who was part of the M-19 rebel group which also disbanded to become a political party in 1990 — supported the deal called on citizens to “be free and change for good the history of Colombia.”

Voters have placed their focus on economic issues in the country while most of the candidates focused their campaigns on inequality, unemployment, housing and ending corruption.

Santos called on voters to “participate massively, happily, and peacefully” and said all of the candidates presented “their proposals, ideas for Colombia in order to continue advancing, to progress, to build peace.”

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