Colombia's FARC to run 74 candidates in March legislative elections

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia’s FARC political party, made up of former members of the rebel group, will field 74 candidates in legislative elections in March, in a bid to win more than 10 seats guaranteed it in a peace deal with the government, the party said on Wednesday.

The vote will mark the party’s electoral debut after thousands of members handed in their weapons under the deal signed with the government of President Juan Manuel Santos in 2016, which ended more than 52 years of war.

The group was previously known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia but is now the Revolutionary Alternative Common Force, preserving their FARC initials.

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.

“We aspire not just to the 10 places, five senators and five representatives, but to many more. We are very optimistic and trust it will be more than ten,” Julian Gallo Cubillos, better known by his chosen rebel name Carlos Antonio Lozada, told journalists. Gallo is a Senate candidate and member of the FARC’s party leadership.

Of the 74 candidates for the party is backing, 23 are running for Senate seats and 51 for the lower house. Long-time rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, known by his nom de guerre Timochenko, is the party’s candidate for presidential elections in May.

The FARC will present a 10-point platform at a campaign launch event this weekend, Gallo added, with policies focused on fighting poverty and unemployment and improving health and education.

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

The peace deal was narrowly rejected by voters in 2016 before being modified and passed through Congress. Recent surveys show little support for the party.

Two party members were killed in Antioquia province last week after a campaign event. Thirty ex-fighters have been murdered by people hoping to destabilize the peace process, the group said at the time.

Former rebels have repeatedly raised concerns they may be assassinated by right-wing paramilitary gangs or drug traffickers, in a replay of about 5,000 targeted killings during the 1980s, when the group first attempted to found the Patriotic Union political party.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Lisa Shumaker