POLITICS | 2/16/2010 12:00:00 AM
A letter to the Court
The only thing worse than Uribe’s second re-election would be his return in 2014.
If the contrary occurs, and they decide the sins are not mortal, many have said that another possible option would be to leave the door open for re-election in 2014. For this to happen, the court would simply have to approve the question in the original text, and not the one modified by Congress to allow for president Uribe’s third period in 2010.
Those who agree with this solution find it to carry many advantages. They think it would satisfy the public opinion, a good share of it being pro-Uribe but against the second re-election. On the other side, it would not offend the president because his referendum would not be shot down. And lastly, it would allow the head of state to indulge in a well-deserved time off and then return if the country needs him.
We can only hope these are not the thoughts of the magistrates. Because even though at first sight this option may seem attractive and pro-consensus, the truth is that the only thing worse than an immediate second presidential re-election is a differed one. For one thing, as this measure would only be taken due to Uribe’s prestige, it would be to legislate with proper names, which is absurd in institutional terms. Leaving the possibility open for Uribe’s return in 2014 would create a “father of the nation” figure like Fidel Castro in Cuba, with power to dominate the whole constitutional framework. And pro-Uribe cliques would form while waiting for his return and political renovation would be blocked.
One of the great advances of Colombia’s 1991 Constitution was the elimination of the non-immediate re-election, permitted until such time. Carlos Lleras wanted to return to the presidential palace in 1974 but was defeated. He tried again in 1978 with no result. López Michelsen wanted to repeat in 1982 but he couldn’t do so. These re-eleccionist aspirations were not good for the country, or for them.
And when the ex presidents have won a non-immediate re-election, the result has been even worse. In Venezuela, the come-backs of Rafael Caldera of COPEI and Rafael Caldera for Democratic Action, are considered to have started the collapse of the political establishment, which made Chavez’s rise feasible. In Colombia, since the prohibition of this re-election figure, a new generation of political leaders has blossomed, as the wide array of presidential candidates demonstrate. This would not have been the case if ex presidents still had a chance at the polls.
If Alvaro Uribe’s return in 2014 was allowed, there are only two possible scenarios: that in 2010 the presidency is filled with a puppet-like, pro-Uribe figure who is willing to hold Uribe’s seat for a presidential term, or the arrival of an independent president who is not keen on returning the seat. Having puppet-like presidents due to constitutional limits was the Somoza’s specialty in Nicaragua and Trujillo’s in Dominican Republic. And for recent examples, one may point at Putin and Medvedev in Russia and Kirchner with his wife in Argentina.
In Colombia, it is unlikely that this occurs because the only candidate that seems willing to do this “public service” is former Agriculture Minister, Andres Felipe Arias. The other candidates, including the Uribists, are sure to follow their own ambition and would like to live in the presidential palace for eight years instead of four. If the door for re-election in 2014 was to remain open, an inevitable conflict would arise between the president in exercise and the preying ex-president since this last one would go against any measure that he finds contrary to his work in office. Even if it means going against a one-time protégé.
And it goes without saying that a non-immediate re-election has the double disadvantage of blocking political renovation and jamming the continuity of a government’s work. While the president goes away and comes back, the one that takes his place will surely have his own initiatives, and these will probable not be approved when the other returns. For all of this it would be best to avoid all these troubles and close the door for re-election in 2014.