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Colombia. Four more years of Uribe’s rule would weaken democratic institutions

Bogotá/Brussels - The decision on whether to change the constitution to enable President Álvaro Uribe to seek a third consecutive term in 2010 will have important consequences for Colombia’s efforts to resolve its armed conflict and tensions with its neighbours.

Uribe’s Possible Third Term and Conflict Resolution in Colombia, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the process of enabling a third presidential term and why the decision on this fundamental issue needs to be accompanied by a recognition that pressing questions of national security, strengthening of democratic institutions and conflict resolution will not wait and should not depend on who may sit in the presidential office after August 2010.

Due to Uribe’s security achievements and strong leadership in times of escalating tensions with Venezuela and Ecuador, the majority of Colombians appear to back a third presidential term. Others warn that the process of enabling it has been plagued by irregularities and express concern it would damage the foundations of Colombia’s democracy.

“Despite his undoubted accomplishments, there is a risk that another change in the constitution and four more years of Uribe’s rule would weaken democratic judicial and legislative institutions and essential checks and balances”, says Nicholas Letts, Crisis Group’s Colombia/Andes Analyst. “A third consecutive term would certainly increase the broad powers of the president to influence the appointment of the heads of supervisory and control institutions”.

In the run-up to the March congressional and May presidential elections, the government and other institutional and political actors should work together to reduce polarisation and uncertainty. The separation of powers among the executive, judiciary and legislative branches must be upheld to reduce the possibility of accumulation of excessive authority by the executive, and the constitutional independence of the new attorney general and oversight and electoral institutions has to be respected.

The current security policy geared at defeating the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN) needs to be reviewed and adjusted by whomever is president for the next four years. The security environment is changing, new illegal armed groups (NIAGs) are emerging, some paramilitaries persist, the insurgents are adapting to government military strategies, and efforts to combat drug-trafficking are achieving partial results but no breakthrough.

“Unfortunately, preoccupation with the third-term issue has meant that debate on important policy issues has largely been absent so far, but Uribe or any new president will need to broaden the strategy to address non-military aspects of the security agenda, including the root causes of the protracted conflict”, says Markus Schultze-Kraft, Crisis Group’s Latin America Program Director. “These challenges include combating rural alienation through more effective development programs, strengthening the protection of human rights and developing a political framework for resolving the conflict”.
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