A third term for President Uribe? The debate continues.

Latin America and the Caribbean

On October 16th of last year, Adam Isacson wrote a piece on the blog Plan Colombia and Beyond about the potential of a third term for Uribe. At the time, the "Party of the 'U'" had promised to collect the 1.3 million signatures necessary for a petition to amend Colombia's constitution to allow Uribe to run for again in 2010. In this post, Adam outlined how Uribe running for a third term could actually make the work of CIP, which is often critical of Uribe's policies, far easier. Now, almost one year later, the debate continues, the "U" Party has successfully collected 5 million signatures in support of a constitutional amendment and Uribe's approval ratings have soared over 90% in the wake of recent successes against the FARC (today, an article in El Tiempo noted that Uribe's approval rating has recently dropped to 78%, due to rising inflation and perhaps discomfort with Uribe's face-off last week with the Supreme Court). While Uribe has been tight-lipped on the re-election subject, many stories and op-eds have surfaced in the press offering their thoughts on the implications of a third term for Uribe and for Colombia. In line with Adam's blog post from almost a year ago, the common opinion, especially among the international press, is that Uribe will be doing Colombia a disfavor if he runs for a third term. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Guardian published articles last week that touched on the reelection debate and gave reasons why Uribe should not seek a third term. The Guardian op-ed relates a third term of President Uribe to other "doomed third-term experiments in the region - Peru's Alberto Fujimori and Argentina's Carlos Menem spring to mind." The LA Times editorial meanwhile states that changing the constitution for a second time (it was already amended once to allow Uribe to run in 2006) would "cast doubt on the president's commitment to democracy, sliding him into the same unsavory category as Hugo Chavez, who makes no secret of longing to be Venezuela's president in perpetuity." And, according to the New York Times editorial, "Colombia’s neighborhood has too many authoritarian-minded leaders. . . . The region needs democracy, underpinned by strong institutions. It does not need more strongmen — however popular they may be or indispensable they may consider themselves." The opinion that the reelection of Uribe to a third term will undermine the democratic process was reiterated today, in a column published on the website of Colombia's Semana magazine. Mateo Samper writes that "A democratic country stops being democratic when its leader maintains power indefinitely, whether they are good or bad." Samper adds that an Uribe re-election effort would have grave effects on Colombia's relations with the United States.

Re-election would give the necessary arguments to Uribe's critics, to say that their fears are justified. That Uribe's message is authoritarian and that his government neither respects nor protects the political minorities that the AFL-CIO labor federation likes so much, is a notion that will be much easier for them to sell."

Not only is an attempt to run for a third term deemed a threat to the democratic process, but the Uribe government's track record is questioned, despite its recent successes against the FARC guerrillas. The LA Times piece continues:

Progress against leftist rebels should not be the sole measure of Uribe's tenure. Also crucial is his ability to strengthen the governing institutions on which Colombia's struggling democracy depends. For all its improvement, the country is still rife with corruption and violence, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia is not the only culprit; almost a third of the Congress, including members allied with the president, is either in jail or under investigation for links to right-wing death squads and/or narco-traffickers. Uribe's proposal to strip the Supreme Court of its power to investigate Congress only exacerbates the sense that he and his supporters intend to subvert the democratic process.

The future of democracy in Colombia seems to be the key rallying point behind the calls for Uribe not to run for a third term. However, until Uribe makes his decision to run (or not to run) public, this is all just speculation. A year after the debate began, we are still waiting to hear from the president himself.