Colombia’s congress dealt a major blow to an ongoing peace process with demobilized Marxist FARC guerrillas on Thursday. The execution of key elements for victims has become uncertain.
President Juan Manuel Santos jumped in to confirm the alleged ratification of reserved congressional seats for conflict areas just before the end of a transitional period in which Congress could “fast-track” peace legislation.
Christmas recess and elections are expected to put the congressional agenda virtually on hold until the second half of 2018.
How to interpret congressional rules
Santos argued that a 50-vote approval was an electoral majority because three senators are in prison. Their seats are formally vacant, leaving 99 of 102 senators.
The “Vacant Seat”
- Disallows parties to replace imprisoned or suspended senators
- Put in place after dozens of senators were imprisoned for ties to armed groups
- Seeks to punish parties for failing to vet congressional candidates for corruption
Senate President Efrain Cepeda had earlier sunk the bill for failing to obtain the normal 52 votes, leaving its legal status to the Constitutional Court.
Conservative and hard-right parties opposed the bill, claiming it could open the door to Congress to crime groups or the FARC political party.
The 16 regions that would receive extra representation have long been neglected by the state and continue to struggle with drug-fueled violence.
Unless approved now, this key element of the peace process could not take effect until the 2022 elections.
Cepeda wrote he would investigate the government’s interpretation of legislative law.
The future of the peace process is uncertain as more than half of the bills that are part of the peace process failed to make it through Congress in the first year.
Status of peace legislation
■ Judicial protection for peace process (approved)
■ FARC’s political participation (under revision by the Constitutional Court)
■ Opposition statute (under revision by the Constitutional Court)
■ Amnesty law (under revision by the Constitutional Court)
■ FARCs transitional representation in Congress (under revision by the Constitutional Court)
■ Ban on paramilitary groups (under revision by the Constitutional Court)
■ Royalty reform to finance peace process (under revision by the Constitutional Court)
■ Special Jurisdiction for Peace (approved)
■ Congressional seats for neglected regions (uncertain)
■ Rural reform (not yet debated)
■ Land reform (not yet debated)
■ State-owned land for displaced victims (not yet debated)
■ Strategy to dismantle paramilitary groups (not yet debated)
■ Decriminalization of small coca growers (not yet debated)
■ National development plan (not yet debated)
■ Electoral reform (not yet debated)
■ Political reform (rejected)
■ Rural justice (not yet presented)
■ Right to protest (not yet presented)
■ Victims Law reform (not yet presented)
The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) was approved on Wednesday, but with a highly controversial article that would disqualify elected judges.
The court had already ruled only armed, not political actors could be called before the transitional court.
Either late or never
Ten bills have yet to appear on the congressional agenda. With three months before the elections, fears are congressmen will prioritize pending legislation over political campaigns.
A new president and a new congress will take office in August next year.
The FARC secured the approval of bills related to its transition to a political party.
The pending bills are all meant for citizens, and the 8 million victims of the half-a-century conflict in particular.