Colombians are heading to the polls to elect a new Congress with a resurgent right, bitterly opposed to a peace deal that allows leftist former rebels to participate, expected to poll strongly.

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos casts his vote during the legislative elections in Bogota, Colombia, March 11, 2018.
Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos casts his vote during the legislative elections in Bogota, Colombia, March 11, 2018. (Reuters)

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 on Sunday in party primaries to select the candidates who will compete in May's election to replace outgoing centre-right President Juan Manuel Santos.

This is the first time the FARC-- previously known as Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and now known as Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, preserving their FARC initials-- appears on a ballot and comes after thousands of members handed in their weapons under the deal signed with the government of Santos in 2016, which ended more than 52 years of war.

The deal guaranteed the party five seats in the Senate and five seats in the lower house through 2026, regardless of the number of votes it receives in elections.

The party hopes to win many more seats and backed 23 candidates for Senate and 51 for the lower house. 

TRT World speaks to journalist Dimitri O'Donnell reports.

Uphill battle

The new FARC suffered a setback on Thursday when Rodrigo Londono, its candidate for the May 27 presidential race and known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, withdrew due to ill health. The party said it would not seek a replacement.

But polls show it faces an uphill battle in the fight for open congressional seats. 

Many Colombians remain angry at the FARC, infamous for kidnappings, bombings and displacements, and believe they should be in prison, not running for congress.

As Colombia adjusts to the end of Latin America's longest-running armed conflict, the FARC is pitching its defence of the poor and other proposals to a traditionally conservative electorate, divided between those who accept its new role in politics and those who demand its leaders go to jail.

It had expressed concern about the safety of its candidates, after many were pelted on the campaign trail with tomatoes, bottles and eggs by angry protesters. 

Patriotic Union, a political party founded by the FARC and Colombian Communist Party in the 1980s, was decimated by a campaign of violent attacks and assassinations blamed on right-wing death squads and drug lords.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies