Presidential reelection is a new figure in the political history of Colombia. It was recently established by a reform to the 197th article of the National Constitution under the 2310 decree of 2004. The article said:
“Nadie podrá ser elegido para ocupar la Presidencia de la República por más de dos períodos”
“Nobody can be elected to seat at the Presidency of the Republic for more than two periods”
A new intention of reform to this article is being studied in the Parliament to extend the possibility of reelection for a third consecutive period. If a new reform is approved, it would open the gates to president Uribe to present his name as a candidate for the next elections. Such fact is dividing opinions between those who believe that only president Uribe can guarantee the continuity of the pacification and development of Colombia and those who assure that democracy would be put at risk with such action.
But a third reelection is not especially sympathetic to international observers. The Economics, the British economical magazine that follows up Colombia with special care, sees the move as a way to autocracy and a damage to democracy, even if president Uribe is praised for his achievements in economics and peace and enjoys a current popularity of 71 percent, according to Invamer-Gallup.
However, abuses and scandals are not absent during the government of the Colombian leader, those that could weak his possible intentions to run for a third period in power. The Economist, following also his national critics like Semana Magazine, enlist facts like the “false war” of the army (falso positivo) where innocent civilians have been killed to be presented to the media as killed guerrillas in combat. This scandal that involved high rank figures of the national army, is under investigation by the prosecutor, but it has weaken the international trust in the ways the Colombian military is winning its war against guerrillas.
At the other hand, the killing of unionist and indigenous leaders, denounced by international human rights organizations, has been other black spot that caused the delay in a possible free trade agreement with US when Democrats of the American Congress asked better results in this area.
The scandal of illegal spy actions leaded by the Administrative Security Department (DAS) on leaders of the opposition, journalists and the justice system, became another mystery in the national panorama to be resolved.
These facts and other events could weak any intention of the president for a third term, although he has suggested in many moments that what should be perpetuated is the project of democratic security that is the entitle of his mandate.
Probabilities for Uribe
Even if scandals are heavy and are taken as the flags of the president’s opponents, they are not enough if people think that president Uribe is the only one ready to guarantee a political project that has given positive results, at least in what is pacification and economics.
The same world financial crisis could be a factor to encourage the idea, according to Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, cited by The Economist.
A high popularity, despise the scandals, is the main power of the president, who keeps a charismatic speech that enchant most Colombians, especially those of the middle class.
After decades of presidents that were unable to stop the advance of the Farc guerrillas, many Colombians would fear that a next presidential leader like those former ones, could just undo the terrain gained in the last 8 years.
The problem is that Uribe is the first president that can expose military results against the guerrilla since the communist insurgent groups were founded in the 1960s. The fear to an empowerment of the guerrillas are, undoubtedly, playing an important role in the moment to decide a reform to allow a third consecutive presidential period.
However, president Uribe set a precedent in the change of former policies in order to strength institutions. A next candidate should convince Colombians that the gained terrain will not be lost, but it will continue in a better way to guarantee peace, security and progress. Moreover, Colombia needs more than the democratic security, the long time expected agrarian reform, more now that thousand of farm families have been displaced from their lands by the action of paramilitary groups.
Voices against the reform
In a national context, the reform has many opponents that see it as a way to close the risen of new leaders for the country and perpetuate traditional practices of political exclusion.
A group of possible presidential candidates, for example, declared this week that the Congress should archive such proposal as an anti-democratic move. They were Sergio Fajardo, Antanas Mockus, Enrique Peñalosa, Martha Lucía Ramírez and Lucho Garzón, who declared:
“Perpetúa las prácticas politiqueras que tanto daño le han hecho al país y cierra el camino a la participación de nuevos liderazgos por fuera de las estructuras tradicionales, lo que hace una mella grave a la fortaleza de la democracia en Colombia”.
“This [reform] perpetuates the traditional politic practices that have harmed the country so much, close the way to the participation of new leaders out of the traditional structures, doing a serious damage to the fortress of democracy in Colombia.”
Sergio Fajardo, one of the most likely popular possible presidential candidates, said that the Congress has not the prestigious to change the rules of the current national politics, blocking the possibilities to independent leaders.
By his part, the Liberal and former president César Gaviria Trujillo, closing alliances with the director of the Polo Democrático Party Carlos Gaviria, said that such reform is a step forward an uncontroled autocracy.
But Gaviria is not the only ex-president moving against the reform in the Congress. Andrés Pastrana said o Caracol Radio on 21 May that there is a 90 percent of probabilities that the referendum will be review by judges who have been appointed by Uribe, suggesting a reform manipulated to benefit his reelection.
What Uribe says
President Uribe has not said that he wants to be reelected for a third period, but he has suggested it in many ways.
During a forum organized by the British Magazine The Economist in Bogotá, the president said that he thinks that a third reelection could be inconvinient for the country, because it could perpetuate the figure of the president and Colombia has other good leaders.
In this the president is right. But hours after he mentioned that he is worry for the continuation of the democratic security and the generation of foreign investment. If hours before he said that Colombia has another good leaders, after he added with such words that he does not believe other “good leaders” could continue the process.
“En lo personal, no quisiera la amargura de que las nuevas generaciones me vieran como alguien apegado al poder. Yo he sido un combatiente de la democracia”.
“Personally, I do not want the bitterness that the new generations would see me as someone attached to the power. I have been a fighter for democracy.”
Uribe made evident also his achievements like the clearance of the paramilitary structure and the investigations over the so call para-politics made during his government.
No Reelection, the real test on democratic security
If the mission of president Uribe during these last presidential periods was to strength democracy, put limits to the action of gun groups and promote investment and progress for the country, its real success will be demonstrated in the election of a new leader, coming from any political party.
If a new elected president is unable to defend the achievements of Uribe, it is possible to conclude that such achievements were unreal, because they could not produce the leader that Colombia requires.
The next elections – without that controversial figure of a third consecutive presidential election referendum, should show to Colombians and the international community, how strong, deep and great was the Uribe’s democratic security project if such elections will be done in a climate of full guarantees for any political sector to participate, without the treatments of violence of former times, without the tensions of a kidnapped democracy by mafias, paramilitary groups and guerrillas treating regions to vote for this or that name to fit their nasty interests.
If Colombians can vote next elections with the feeling of confidence and optimism, then the winner will be president Uribe, not because he will remain other four years sitting down on the throne of Bolívar, but because he will give his scepter to a next leader able to look the paths of peace, justice and progress for his/her country.
- Presidential re-election in Colombia, Uribe edges towards autocracy. Bogotá, May 14th 2009. “A popular president seems to be heading towards a third term, despite the damage this would do to democracy.” The Economist
- El presidente Uribe admite que la reelección ‘es inconveniente’. Caracol, Mayo 21 de 2009
- Presidenciables afirman que la reforma no es política sino ‘politiquera’ y debe archivarse, Caracol, Mayo 20 de 2009
- El Liberalismo y el Polo se unen para contrarrestar el referendo reeleccionista y la reforma política, Caracol, Mayo 21 de 2009
- Ex presidente Andrés Pastrana no cree en imparcialidad de la Corte Constitucional, Caracol, Mayo 21 de 2009
- Colombia: los enredos del referendo reeleccionista. El proceso a través del cual se pretende que Álvaro Uribe acceda a un tercer período de gobierno promete convertirse en un campo de batalla judicial y político. Por ElEspectador.com en AméricaEconomía.
- Colombia Senate backs Uribe vote. Semana, May 20, 2009