Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Four Months Until Colombia’s Election: Is President Uribe Already Running?

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It’s hard to believe that President Uribe won’t run for a third term after more than two years of keeping the country in political limbo. In yet another sign that he wants to be re-elected for a third term, he is now stopping the TV transmission of his weekly communal council meetings in towns across Colombia. This may yet be another signal that he does not want to have an unfair advantage over other candidates. Could his “soul” no longer be at the crossroads?

Not quite. He still hasn’t stated he is going to run. And yet, there are many practical reasons why he should not be able to do so—unless he unabashedly disregards the law.

In Colombia, the law says that candidates have until March 12 to register their candidacy for the May 30 presidential elections. For President Uribe to meet the deadline, he has to overcome some hurdles that many believe are practically insurmountable.

First, the Constitutional Court (CC) has to decide whether the re-election referendum—the first step since the constitution only permits two consecutive terms in office—is constitutional. Based on their usual procedural timeframes, their decision should not be expected any sooner than mid or late February—and that is pushing it.

Second, even if the CC delivers a favorable and early decision, the organism in charge of putting together the referendum (the Registraduría Nacional, RN) will not have time to organize the country-wide vote. The current head of the RN, Carlos Ariel Sanchez, has said it would take him at least three months to pull it off. By these two counts alone, the president cannot and will not meet the March 12 deadline.

He could register after the deadline, of course, but not without changing the rules. But as of yesterday, President Uribe had again said that he has no plans to alter the electoral calendar. Was he finally implying that he is not going to run? Why then is he stopping the transmission of his communal councils?

It’s certainly not the first time he’s been ambiguous about his re-election. However, for now, most Colombians look at him as a likely candidate.

After three long years of this political game, I think it’s clear that he will run again. If not, he would have already put an end to the speculation. In the end, he’ll have to alter the law, and he will argue again that he does so because it is what the people want—and perhaps even God.

The presidency is an institution, not a person. And another term in power would make the eventual transition shaky as the office would be highly tied to the person himself rather than the workings of the government. But that perhaps is old news. The most unfortunate reality is that there is a solid array of presidential candidates—most of them vowing to continue President Uribe’s policies on security and the economy. In the endless chatter about the president’s political limbo, these policies and proposals are going unheard.

If he is going to run, he should just say it now. At least then, people will be able to focus on the issues that are critical for Colombia’s long-term development and hear other alternatives.

*Mateo Samper is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org and was born in Bogotá, Colombia. He is senior editor of Americas Quarterly and director of public policy programs at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

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