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Colombia: A Ruling for Democracy

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In a decisive ruling for democracy, Colombia’s Constitutional Court determined February 26th that a law authorizing a referendum to change the constitution to permit a second consecutive reelection of President Álvaro Uribe would be unconstitutional. President Uribe immediately accepted the decision.

Uribe had kept Colombia’s political world on edge for a full year, with some other candidates not daring to emerge until he announced or stepped aside.  In recent months, he had repeatedly spoken of the importance of an “estado de opinion” (“state of opinion”), referring to popular opinion wanting him to run, a phrase which appeared intended to contrast with the term “estado de derecho” (“rule of law”).  This made observers fear that he would attempt to find ways to challenge the court’s ruling.  But the court’s 7-2 decision left no room for questioning the results.

The Court’s 430-page ruling carefully documented a “chain of vices and irregularities” surrounding the passage of the law authorizing the referendum in the Congress.

The decisive action finally clears the way for other candidates to step forward and run for the presidential elections scheduled for May 30. Former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos immediately threw his hat in the ring.

A third term for the powerful yet scandal-encircled president could have weakened Colombia’s democratic structures by eliminating checks and balances that had already been seriously eroded.  As our partner Project Counselling Service’s Bogotá office remarked, “the Court has acted forcefully in favor of preserving and strengthening Colombian democracy.”