Colombians will have the option to vote either “yes” or “no” to an eventual peace deal with FARC rebels with a plebiscite, the Senate decided on Wednesday.
The Colombian government and guerrilla group the FARC have penciled in 23 March 2016 as the date for the signing of their final peace deal. However, the agreement will not become valid until the Colombian population has voted on it.
A plebiscite was proposed by members of the U Party, the party of President Juan Manuel Santos, as the method of ratification.
One crucial aspect of the proposed bill is that a 13% “yes” vote would be sufficient to ratify the peace deal, rather than a 51% majority, due to historically low turnout rates in Colombia potentially threatening the success of the peace process, celebrating its third anniversary on Thursday.
The bill passed through the first two rounds of debate at the Senate but in the absence of the Democratic Center, the party of former president and staunch critic of the peace process, Alvaro Uribe, because they disagree with the 13% threshold.
The Senators Claudia Lopez and Angelica Lozano of the Green Alliance party and Hernan Penagos (U Party) argued that if the minimum threshold is lowered from 51% to 13% this change should also be applied to all future plebiscites, otherwise it could be “unconstitutional” in the words of Penagos.
According to a press release from the Senate, during the debate a new article was adopted which will allow citizens to inform themselves about “the whole of the Havana agreement” 30 days before the plebiscite through a media campaign.
This article was presented by Senator Viviane Morales who said, “The idea is for Colombians to discuss thoroughly the issues of political participation, of justice, of agricultural development,” which will affect their lives.
Uribe’s conservative opposition party has rejected a peace deal is sealed with a mere “yes” and “no,” option. His party, the Democratic Center, has called for a Constituent Assembly to be held.
The FARC, who also want a Constituent Assembly, has protested the move in Congress, claiming it is left out of the decision making on how to ratify the deal that would dismantle their guerrilla organization and turn it into a political party.
Peace talks have been taking place in Havana, Cuba between the Colombian government and the FARC since November 2012 in order to resolve the 51-year-long civil conflict which left 260,000 Colombians dead and over 6 million displaced.
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