Colombia’s House of Representatives on Thursday agreed to hold a plebiscite to seek popular approval of a peace deal with rebel group FARC if one is reached.
The House’s vote is not the final decision; a reconciliation commission comprised of member of both the Senate and the House will have to approve the final changes made by the representatives.
According to the bill as it is sent to the commission, the plebiscite will be held three weeks after publication of the full peace agreement with the FARC, Colombia’s largest and oldest Marxist rebel group.
For the peace deal to be approved, more than 50% of 13% of the eligible population, must vote over the deal that seeks an end to more than 51 years of political violence between rebels and state.
Concretely, Santos will need the approval of 4.4 million Colombians, less than 10% of the population, to validate the eventual peace deal in spite of vociferous opposition by conservatives who fruitlessly tried their fellow lawmakers to agree on a higher threshold.
However, the centrist coalition supporting President Juan Manuel Santos’ in Congress and the leftist opposition voted in favor, rendering former President Alvaro Uribe and his opposition to the talks politically irrelevant.
The plebiscite bill now enters its most delicate phase as the joint-chamber commission is allowed to edit the final text behind closed doors, which in the past has been abused by lawmakers to advance their personal interests.
Once the reconciliation commission has approved the bill, it will be sent to Santos for signing and will subsequently be tested by the Constitutional Court that will decide whether the bill is constitutional or not.
The Santos administration and the FARC have been informally talking since the beginning of 2011 and formally since November 2012.
If the warring parties come to an agreement on the final two points on the agenda, “Victims” and “End of Conflict,” and the deal that includes a far-stretching rural reform, political participation for the FARC and the guerrillas’ abandoning of drug trafficking is approved in the plebiscite, a conflict that began in 1964 formally comes to an end.
However, a deal with the FARC does not mean the end of political violence in Colombia. The smaller ELN rebel group has so far failed to agree to the formalization of their talks with the government.
Additionally, groups formed from the paramilitary organization AUC continue to pose a major threat to public security and in particular human rights defenders, unionists and journalists.