Colombia closed its borders and opened polling stations on Sunday to elect a new congress in the most polarized and violent election cycle since 2006.
Sunday’s legislative elections and May’s presidential election are the first since a historic peace agreement between the state and demobilized FARC rebels.
A tot of 102 senators and 166 house representatives will be elected. The demobilized guerrillas were granted five seats in each chamber as part of their 2016 peace deal.
Polling stations opened at 8AM on Sunday after an election race that has been marred by attacks on the FARC, leftist candidates and social leaders.
The former guerrillas are allowed to take part in the elections as part of the peace agreement with President Juan Manuel Santos that came to force in December 2016.
The FARC’s political party is not expected to obtain seats on top of the 10 they have been guaranteed.
Controversial former President Alvaro Uribe has been tipped to make major gains these elections. Uribe recently heard from the Supreme Court he is investigated for allegedly forming a death squad in the 1990s.
Uribe and former President German Vargas have been joined by a collection of rural clans and political dynasties in an attempt to maintain their political power in Congress.
Particularly the support for Petro, who was a guerrilla in the 1980s, has spurred aggressive attacks from the conservatives and violence from the far right.
The two candidates have been gathering huge crowd and have urged Colombians not to support politicians who obtain power through elections fraud, a common occurrence in elections.
What’s at stake
The clan politicians oppose the country’s peace process that, among other things, seeks measures to strengthen the country’s economy and improve the political representation of victims.
Traditional elite politicians have blocked most of the process with the FARC in Congress. One hard right representative said he wanted to “rip the deal to pieces.” Peace talks with armed groups active in the countryside have stalled.
A truth commission and a war crimes tribunal are expected to soon begin hearings on the mass violation of human rights by the FARC, the military and the political establishment.
The conservatives and the far right have warned that the implementation of the peace process and the possible election of left-of-center candidates would turn Colombia in a communist dictatorship similar to Venezuela.
Colombia’s notoriously unreliable election polls have indicated that the small congressional anti-corruption lobby could gain a few seats.
Other than that, expectations are low for the elections that traditionally do not motivate more than half of the country’s electorate.