Colombia’s Prosecutor General asked the Constitutional Court on Thursday to nullify a recently approved plebiscite that would give Colombians a vote on a pending peace deal between the government and left wing FARC guerrillas.
As talks between the government and the rebels advance, any agreement that is signed is due to be presented before the public, which has been promised a popular vote for approval.
President Juan Manuel Santos had long promised a referendum, but opted for a lower-bar plebiscite while the FARC and the conservative opposition have called for a constitutional assembly.
A referendum would require a relatively high voter turnout, while in a plebiscite this threshold would be lower.
However, according to Prosecutor General Eduardo Montealegre the proposed plebiscite would be unconstitutional and would involve an amendment to the constitution.
Instead, he wants the president to have the faculty to “seal the deal” with the leftist rebels that has divided the country.
Montealegre’s office asked the Constitutional Court to declare unconstitutional a draft bill for a plebiscite to “seal” the final agreement for the termination of the conflict and building a stable and lasting peace.
Montealegre claims that a countersignature is unnecessary both from a legal and a constitutional point of view.
“The constitutional and legal development of the final agreement for the termination of the conflict, can not be subjected to an election result,” he said in a statement.
Montealegre outlined five arguments in an attempt to add weight to his claim.
- The National Government has a constitutional obligation to take all necessary measures to guarantee the rights of citizens, including the right to peace. Procedures, actions and commitments made by the government in negotiations with the FARC, has been made in the context of these constitutional powers. While popular participation is a valuable element in a democracy, this can not imply that the powers of the President of the Republic to achieve peace have to be conditioned to the verdict of the people.
- The constitutional and legal development of the final agreement for the termination of the conflict, can not be subjected to an election result. It must be developed within the framework of the constitutional powers of the Government, Congress, the Judicial Branch, Control Bodies and Public Entities to achieve peace.
- As the articles of the draft Constitutional Act provides that the decision through the referendum shall be binding for purposes of developing the agreement and that the obligation to abide by the outcome of the vote available, the Attorney General of the Nation concluded that the bill of an erroneous assumption, according to which, advance and complete a peace process in Colombia requires countersignature. This is contrary to the Constitution.
- This bill involves a constitutional reform de facto, because it modifies the powers of the different branches of government against the right to peace. Attorney Montealegre considers that in the event of a ‘no vote’ winning, the constitutional powers of public authority would be limited to reach and implement peace, which would be contrary to the Constitution.
- In conclusion: the plebiscite can not be binding for the approval of the final agreement. The President has full constitutional powers to advance and successfully carry a peace process.
In late February, a poll carried out by Gallup tested the ground regarding public participation in a countersignature referendum.
30% of Colombians said they definitely would participate in the countersigning, 22% would probably vote and 19% said they definitely would not. In addition, 13% still do not know whether to participate and 8% probably will not vote.
Should the claims of the Prosecutor General be upheld, it would mean that the responsibility for the acceptance and implementation of the peace terms would rest solely with the Santos administration and Colombians would have no say over the peace process that is due to determine the future destiny of their country.