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Colombian Court Rejects Re-Election Referendum; Juan Manuel Santos Announces Candidacy

March 1, 2010 By Roque Planas

Colombia’s Constitutional Court rejected a referendum on Friday that would have permitted the current government to hold a plebiscite asking voter approval to remove the barrier to immediate re-election of the president.

The measure was defeated by a vote of seven to two, with the Court arguing that the re-election referendum violated numerous procedural requirements.

In Colombia, a referendum must be initiated by the citizenry, approved by Congress and ratified by plebiscite. The Court cited irregularities in the financing of the campaign to collect signatures for the referendum’s initiation and faulted the Congress for approving the referendum without certifying the signatures by a separate agency, as required by law.

Additionally, Congress changed the content of the referendum that had been posed to the signatories, which the Court found unconstitutional.

“These procedural defects are not mere irregularities, they are substantial violations of democratic principles,” the Court said, according to the Colombian magazine La Semana.

The decision dealt a hard blow to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, who has held office since 2002. Uribe has become popular in Colombia by taking a hard stance against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftist guerrilla group. Uribe has consistently led opinion polls for the 2010 presidential race.

“The participation of the citizens cannot contradict the Constitution,” Uribe said after hearing the decision, according a report in Colombian daily El Tiempo.

The same day the Court declared its decision, President Uribe’s former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos announced his candidacy for the presidency in 2010, radio Caracol reports. Santos had said that he would withhold his candidacy until the Court assessed the possibility of Uribe running for a third consecutive term.

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