In a national broadcast June 27, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe called for a referendum on holding a new presidential election after the country’s Supreme Court of Justice called for a review of the constitutional change that allowed him to run for a second term in 2006. Uribe said Congress should quickly pass legislation he will submit to approve the referendum, but didn’t say whether the election would be for a new full four-year term or to legitimize his remaining two years.
The move opens Uribe to further accusations that he is seeking to extend his stay in office beyond 2010, when his term expires. His supporters are already calling for a new constitutional amendment allowing him to run for a third term.
The court made the decision after the conviction of Yidis Medina, a former lower-house legislator who confessed she was bribed by the government with promises of jobs for her supporters in exchange for her vote for the constitutional change allowing Uribe’s second term. Sentenced to 47 months house arrest, she was transfered to prison following the Supreme Court decision.
Uribe, who won the 2006 election with 62% of the vote, blasted the ruling. “This high court’s justices have lent themselves to a power [struggle] which seems not to have a legal solution,” he said in his televised address.
The votes of two legislators, Medina and Teodolindo Avendano—also arrested over the bribery charges—helped push the election bill through in November 2004. Medina said that Uribe was aware of the bribes, though the president and his ministers have denied any wrongdoing. The scandal comes on top of investigations linking some of Uribe’s closest congressional allies to the illegal right-wing paramilitaries.
Carlos Gaviria, Uribe’s left-wing challenger in the 2006 race, told the New York Times, “President Uribe is inaugurating a regime that could be called a populist dictatorship.” But the Times emphasized that opinion polls place Uribe’s popularity at 80%. (AlJazeera, Bloomberg, NYT, Colprensa, June 28)