The Guardian | 9/3/2009 12:00:00 AM
Colombia's congress paves the way for Álvaro Uribe's third term
Sept 03--Congress passes bill that allows Álvaro Uribe, the conservative US ally, to run for a controversial third term
Legislators hugged and applauded yesterday after a marathon session ended in a vote 85-5 in favour of the proposal, with 76 abstentions, a landslide which showed the strength of the Uribe bandwagon.
"The congress has fulfilled its duty," said Santiago Castro, a pro-Uribe congressman. "It's up to the Colombian people now to define the fate of the re-election at the polls."
Uribe, a conservative US ally who blends populism with a technocratic style, is popular for pushing back leftist guerrillas, improving security and restoring Colombia's confidence. But his nearly eight years in office have been marred by scandals linking his supporters to rightwing paramilitary groups and human rights abuses by security forces. Civilians were abducted, dressed up as rebels and murdered to swell the army's kill rate.
Critics warned another term will entrench an overmighty executive at the expense of other institutions. "What is in play here are the rules of the game of democracy," said opposition lawmaker River Franklin Legro on the eve of congress's vote.
Colombia is on course to follow a trend set by Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, an Andean neighbour who amended the constitution to abolish term limits. The leftist leaders of Bolivia and Ecuador have also extended term limits. Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega recently said he wants to follow suit. All three are Chávez allies. Uribe has frosty relations with all four.
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