Colombia's new President vows to make changes to historic peace agreement

Lester Mason
June 20, 2018

Vehemently opposed to the peace deal, 41-year-old Duque says he would revise it in order to sentence guerrilla leaders guilty of serious crimes to "proportional penalties".

Yet, in the first presidential election since the 2016 peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Duque anxious Colombians with a promise to overhaul the accord that ended a five-decade conflict which killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.

With 97 percent of polling stations counted, Duque had 54 percent of votes, while Petro had 42 percent.

Colombia's peace process to end years of conflict among leftist rebels, the state and right-wing paramilitary groups that left more than 250,000 people dead is considered largely irreversible.

"This is the opportunity that we have been waiting for - to turn the page on the politics of polarisation, insults and venom", Duque told jubilant supporters Sunday night, joined by his young family.

Duque admirers honked auto horns and began congregating Sunday around the site in Bogota where he is expected to receive the final results.

"I'm euphoric because Duque won", said Julio Palacios, who works in real estate in Duquista.

Yet on Sunday, many voters appeared to be backing Duque in part to stop Petro's ascent.

"I hope all Colombians go out to vote to strengthen our democracy, which guarantees the rights and freedoms of each and every citizen", said President Juan Manuel Santos, who won the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize for his peace efforts, after voting. "The next four years will be hard".

Supporters of centrist ex-Medellin mayor Sergio Fajardo, who narrowly missed out to Petro in the first round with almost 24 percent of the vote, will weigh heavily on the outcome.

Even before the election, implementation of the accord had been slow going and rebel commanders have complained that the recent arrest of a former rebel peace negotiator on USA drug charges could lead some of the 7,000 fighters who've surrendered their weapons to join dissident rebel factions or criminal gangs that have proliferated in former FARC-dominated areas.

It was during that time that Duque formed a close relationship with former President Alvaro Uribe, an influential conservative man who is both adored and detested by legions of Colombians.

But the accord remains contentious and Duque pledged throughout his campaign to make changes that would deliver "peace with justice".

The current agreement allows most rebels to avoid jail, a sore point for many Colombians.

"Undoubtedly, for the peace process, this is an important test", said Patricia Munoz, a professor of political science at the Pontifical Xavierian University in Bogota. "It has to be revised".

"I really don't like either of them, but as I have to choose, it has to be Duque", said Carlos Mora, a 52-year-old lawyer. Duque's detractors warn that his victory could throw an already delicate peace process into disarray. "We are going to make war victims the focal point of the peace process".

FARC, which disarmed and transformed into a political party after the peace deal but did not contest the election, immediately called on Duque to show "good sense" in dealing with the agreement. Mr Duque was seen as the safer pair of hands to lead after more than 50 years of conflict.

The former rebels also called for an early meeting with the president-elect.

In a concession speech that at times sounded celebratory, he challenged Duque to break with his hard-line allies, and Uribe in particular. He also promised to mobilise his considerable following into a combative opposition that will fight for social reforms and defend the peace accord.

Petro energized young voters and drew millions to public plazas with his fiery speeches vowing to improve the lives of poor, disenfranchised Colombians.

When he takes office in August, he will be Colombia's youngest president in more than a century.

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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