Santos: Reelection for Me but Not for Thee


EspañolPresident Juan Manuel Santos has presented his plan for the reform of the Colombian national government to Congress. After meeting with opponents, judiciary officials, and members of his own National Unity Party, the administration put forth a proposal on Wednesday that seeks the elimination of presidential reelections, and the creation of a new court for trials involving senior government officials, among other changes.

The constitutional reform aims to adjust the balance of power in government, and is primarily centered around the elimination of reelection for all high-ranking government officials.

“Although I did not have to reform the Constitution to be eligible for a second term, true to what has always been my position, I respected all the rules of the game,” said President Juan Manual Santos, who began his second term in office in August thanks to election reforms passed by former President Alvaro Uribe in 2006. “The recent electoral campaign confirmed, personally and politically, that reelection is inconvenient,” said the president.

“Dismantling reelection is the gateway to restoring the balance of power in our country,” he added.

Among the actions in the balance of power proposal: elimination of presidential reelection and preferential vote.

Key Features of the Reform

According to the proposal, “all public offices subject to fixed term, elected or appointed, may not be elected for the following term.” This includes the president, ombudsman, and members of the National Electoral Council. Legislators, however, are excluded, since according to Santos, they should make the decision whether or not to pursue reelection themselves.

The Indictment Commission, the congressional body that oversees criminal and disciplinary charges against senior government officials, is also eliminated under this proposal, replaced by a separate court staffed by independent judges.

This new body will have seven members that will refer penal, fiscal, or disciplinary cases to higher judicial and prosecutorial offices.

The reform also proposes that the candidate who receives the second-most votes in a presidential election be given the opportunity to obtain a seat in the Senate.

Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia since 2010.
Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia since 2010. (Facebook)

The proposal also sets forth a change in the structural composition of the Senate. Today, the Senate has 100 members elected by popular vote and two representatives from indigenous communities. This legislation would change this to 89 members elected by popular vote, plus one member from each of the 11 districts with a population under 500,000.

The new law would also eliminate the preferential vote. Voters would no longer cast a ballot for a single candidate for Congress, but rather vote for a particular political party.

The proposal would also allow legislators to work in other areas of government. If approved, Congress members could be appointed ambassadors or ministers, which is currently not possible under the law.

With regard to the judiciary, judges will be required 20 years of experience, rather than 10, to be considered for seats on the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, and the Council of State.

These judges, along with officials of the National System of Judicial Administration, members of the National Electoral Council, the Attorney General, and other high-ranking positions, would be prohibited from running for other elected offices until one year following their time of service in their current position.

Mandatory Voting in Colombia?

The president made it clear that the current proposal does not contain a mandatory voting provision, but did say the issue had been discussed in previous meetings. The legislation does, however, stipulate that any person who does not vote will not be eligible for government work or public office.

José David Name, Senate president and member of the ruling party, said he currently holds a parliamentary majority and is optimistic this legislation will pass. He added, however, that he does not dismiss the possibility of amendments along the way.

Conflicting Opinions

“The duty of Congress is to push this necessary reform forward so that a balance of powers can exist in this country. Both the president of the Chamber and I are committed to ensuring the remainder of the process goes smoothly,” Name said.

Clara López, president of the progressive Democratic Pole Party, criticized the change in the composition of Congress.

“A reduction in the national constituency threatens the existence of all minority parties in Congress. We call for the initiation of a peaceful process that seeks to broaden and deepen democracy in Colombia. We don’t want to destroy something we have worked hard to build,” she said.

Santos’s cynicism knows no bounds. He says he proposed eliminating reelection before his own. He mocks the country.

Ernesto Macías, a senator from the conservative Democratic Center Party, highlighted the irony of the president’s position: “Santos proposes eliminating reelection after being reelected. As I’ve argued in the past, President Juan Manuel Santos perverted the concept of reelection with everything that happened in this past election. Reelection itself is not inherently bad.”

Translated by Alex Clark-Youngblood.

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