Colombian Courts Greenlight Controversial FARC Peace Referendum

Columbia (PanAm) – Colombia’s Constitutional Court Issues Regulations for Yes/No Vote on Guerilla Peace Talks

The Constitutional Court of Colombia — in charge of constitutional revision to laws and public initiatives — approved the FARC peace process referendum July 18.

Magistrate Luis Ernesto Vargas wrote a positive opinion draft of the referendum, meaning that after studying the proposal, he told the other eight justices the referendum was in accordance with the Colombian legal system.

Afterward, there was a debate in which the approval of the referendum being yes/no —  a 7-2 decision.

The conditions to approve the peace referendum

Despite the fact that the decision’s text hasn’t yet been publicized, Justice Vargas reportedly demanded in his draft conditions that the campaign be a strict yes/no referendum. This was confirmed by justice Maria Victoria Calle:

“This clause established rules on the referendum campaign. The Court considered that in these campaigns no contents are allowed which promote a party, movement or significant number of citizens which are related to elected officials.”

It was also announced that the accords couldn’t be blindly approved. They have to be published at least 30 days before voting so as to allow for a decision regarding whether Colombians approve or disapprove of the agreement with FARC.

Finally, the publication of the accords must be inclusive with communities that have difficulty understanding Spanish. They will have to be translated and adapted for people that speak other languages, that are blind or that live in secluded areas where information is hard to reach.

The election threshold

FARC rebels.

FARC rebels.

Commonly, a referendum needs a minimum level of participation — probably around 50 percent plus one — to be approved as a consultation mechanism. This means at least 4,378,118 votes must be cast.

This is a challenge for the courts, one that the opposition was waiting for the to address. Should the Constitutional Court order a 50-percent threshold, the opposition could campaign for abstaining their votes and thus force a victory for “no.”

Despite the Constitutional obligation the President has to promote peace, the Constitutional Court said the referendum’s outcome will be mandatory. That is, whether the referendum is successful or not, President Juan Manuel Santos will have to abide by the Colombian people’s decision.

The timeline

Once a final agreement between the national government and FARC is reached, President Santos must call for citizens to vote. This must then be approved by Congress and the voting must take place at least a month after the publication of the accords so as to allow the voters to study the issue.

If yes wins, there will be an obligation to include these accords in the country’s legal system. If the outcome is no, such agreements can’t be included in the Colombian legal system and must be renegotiated.

Reactions

Here are some of the reactions in social networks from politicians and opinion leaders in the country.