The president has U-turned on his promise to get the people’s approvalby Daniel Rey / December 9, 2016 / Leave a comment
“Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and build a stable and lasting peace?” As referendum questions go, it was hardly phrased in the most objective way. Nonetheless, on 2nd October, 50.2 per cent of Colombian voters disagreed with it. Now, as he seeks to end a 52-year conflict with a guerrilla insurgency, President Juan Manuel Santos has U-turned on one of his fundamental pledges of the peace process: the right of the people to ratify the final agreement.
While attention was turned to the plane crash involving the Chapecoense football team, the lower chamber of the congress approved a new peace deal with FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). After five decades, an end to the conflict is in sight. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has hailed “a remarkable negotiating process”; Santos has won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. But irrespective of the merits of the deal, the president has betrayed the electorate.
The treaty was rejected by a razor-thin margin. At the time, Santos, who has waged his political capital on being the harbinger of peace, said that he saw the defeat as an opportunity to make an even better reconciliation pact. Instead, the president has bypassed direct democracy by putting the re-negotiated accord to congress, claiming that the last thing Colombia needed was to be divided further by another plebiscite. While there is no constitutional requirement for a referendum, Santos has reneged on his promise, one that helped him gain political support in the early stages of the negotiations.
Congress may be the seat of Colombia’s elected representatives, but rarely do broken promises aid transitional justice. At its worst, it seems as though Santos held a vote to buttress his popularity and then discarded the citizenry’s wishes when it voiced its disapproval. Some commentators are even calling it a coup.
Santos clearly regarded a second vote as too much of a political risk. But he was wrong. Yes, another defeat could have had a terminal effect on negotiations and may have made his position untenable, but the government would have likely won a second referendum.
Turnout in October was astonishingly low (37 per cent). And as we have recently seen, a low turnout tends to favour…