Colombia vice-President Angelino Garzon said Monday he supports a constituent assembly, contradicting President Juan Manuel Santos who had claimed his VP opposed the exceptional tool to change the constitution.
Congressmen loyal to former President Alvaro Uribe have said they want to convoke the constituent assembly to force drastic changes to the country’s judicial system. Critics of the former president have claimed a constitutional amendment would simply be a backdoor that would allow Uribe a third tilt at the presidency.
The electoral process to amend the constitution was first coined by the fugitive former Peace Commissioner Luis Carlos Restrepo, one of dozens of Uribe-loyal politicians charged with corruption.
In his first interview since suffering a stroke in June, the vice-president downplayed the interests behind a constituent assembly, saying it “is a tool that allows a sincere and friendly dialogue between President Juan Manuel Santos and ex-president Alvaro Uribe so that they come to an agreement on national unity and reconcilliation.”
“I as vice-president am going to support this dialogue,” Garzon told the radio station of Colombia’s National Police.
Uribe has become an increasingly vocal opponent of Santos, who was voted into office as the unofficial heir of the former president.
Santos has opposed the “Uribista” initiative to convoke a constituent assembly, calling it “inconvenient and dangerous,” and warning “we know where [the changes] start but not where they end.”
The convocation of a national constituent assembly to alter the constitution would be a rare and momentous event in Colombia’s recent history. A constituent assembly has not been convoked since 1991, when Colombia’s current constitution was passed.
A national constituent assembly is one of only three mechanisms to change Colombia’s constitution. The two alternatives are a vote in congress or a referendum.
The process of convening an assembly is complex and protracted. Even if the idea received widespread support, a decision by an assembly would likely not be reached until 2013, claimed Ramirez.
First, a majority of members in the House of Representatives and the Senate must approve the call to gather the assembly. They are also responsible for confirming the agenda and membership of the assembly.
Once a number of committee members have been determined by congress, an election is called where voters choose the candidates they wish to represent them in the assembly. In 1991, the assembly was made up of luminaries from the major political parties, recently demobilized guerrillas and other community leaders. According to Ramirez, approximately 100 members would be the likely figure.
A majority decision of the assembly must be reached before an amendment can be made. It is possible that the assembly would approve only part of the proposals put forward.