Despite the fact that FARC rebels and the government appear no closer to signing a treaty to end the country’s 50-year civil war, lawmakers in Colombia’s lower house have voted to authorize a referendum on the terms of an eventual peace accord.
The Colombian Chamber of Representatives voted 105 to two in favor of allowing the referendum on Wednesday after several days of debate, Caracol reports. While normally the country’s laws prohibit referendums to be tied to general elections, the bill creates an exception for the peace treaty. It will now move on to the Senate floor, where it is expected to pass.
Because the specifics of an eventual peace agreement remain undefined, the content of the bill is relatively sparse. It simply paves the way for a referendum to take place alongside either the upcoming legislative election in March or the presidential election in May. According to El Espectador, it also prohibits the use of public funds in campaigns for or against the peace deal, and charges the National Electoral Council with establishing further campaign regulations.
The AP notes that political opponents accuse President Juan Manuel Santos of using the referendum to leverage his re-election campaign. “One thing that is clear is that [Santos] is playing politics with the peace process, it doesn’t take a genius to realize it,” Senator Jorge Enrique Robledo of the Alternative Democratic Pole told the news agency.
These accusations seem off the mark, however, considering that Santos has consistently maintained that any peace agreement with the FARC should be submitted to a popular vote. He first floated the idea in January, to counter FARC negotiators’ demands for a constituent assembly.
While tying the referendum to elections may seem like a political move, it may have more to do with maximizing voter turnout . In order for it to pass, the referendum needs 7.5 million votes, or 25 percent of the electorate.
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