the economist

Closer to Uribe 3.0

Sept 03--But the courts could still block it

DESPITE being holed up with swine flu, Colombia’s president, Álvaro Uribe had reason to celebrate this week. After weeks of manoeuvring, the lower house of Congress approved the final text of a law to call a referendum on changing the constitution to allow Mr Uribe to run for a third consecutive term—an unprecedented abandonment of term limits in a country that until recently was zealously mistrustful of executive power.

That is tribute to Mr Uribe’s extraordinary popularity among Colombians, most of whom see him as their saviour from decades of mounting guerrilla and paramilitary violence. But even though the measure has surmounted its final legislative hurdle, it remains uncertain whether Mr Uribe will in fact be a candidate in the election due next May.

Before a referendum can be held, the Constitutional Court must review both the text of the law and the procedures by which it was passed. Both are open to question. Though the court’s current justices have shown themselves generally sympathetic to Mr Uribe (who nominated a third of them), on such an important issue they may well show independence. Questions have been raised over the financing of the petition campaign with which the re-election drive began. The ambiguous wording of the referendum question was changed during the bill’s passage through Congress to make it clear that Mr Uribe could run in 2010, rather than having to wait four years.
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