Colombian public rejects peace deal with FARC by narrow margin
Colombian public rejects peace deal with FARC by narrow marginOn 2 October, the Colombian population rejected the peace agreement signed between President Juan Manuel Santos and the leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) just a week earlier. The unexpected result of the referendum contradicted all previous opinion polls, which had predicted a comfortable victory for Santos’s “Yes” campaign. The narrow margin, with 50.2 percent of voters rejecting the deal and 49.8 percent voting in favour of the agreement, leaves a fragmented country and an enormous uncertainty regarding the peace process and Colombia’s political stability.
From the beginning of the peace talks in Havana in 2012, right-wing opposition groups criticised the negotiations. Former president Alvaro Uribe, who launched a successful military offensive against FARC during his mandate from 2002-2010, became a leading figure of the movement opposing the talks. Throughout the four years of negotiations, the level of the public’s support fluctuated, although the failure to meet two self-imposed deadlines for an agreement earlier in 2016 led to increasing pessimism and public disbelief in the process. Nevertheless, the signing of the comprehensive deal on 26 September, which included the participation of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry and the majority of Latin American leaders in a ceremony in Cartagena, appeared to have opened a new chapter in a country that has suffered more than 52 years of conflict, causing more than 220,000 registered deaths, some 45,000 disappeared and eight million collateral victims, including almost six million internally displaced persons.
Despite the domestic and international optimism seen in previous days, highlighted by a public apology by FARC’s leader, Rodrigo Londoño “Timochenko”, Uribe’s “No” campaign successfully mobilised to promote the belief that the agreement should be re-negotiated. One of the most controversial topics included in the agreement was the granting of 10 unelected congressional seats to former rebels, as well as reduced sentences for those that acknowledge their crimes to a truth commission. The opposition argues that those particular clauses would lead to impunity and give FARC members an undeserved advantage in the political process. Santos, on the other hand, defended the agreement as the only way to ensure former rebels have incentives to reintegrate themselves to civil society instead of joining other guerrilla or organised criminal groups.
The low turnout in the referendum – less than 38 percent – shows an exhausted population that is largely unwilling to accept FARC as another political player. The referendum also highlighted the deep regional polarisation in the country. The provinces that have been most affected by the conflict, particularly those along the coast and the Venezuelan and Ecuadorian borders, voted strongly in favour of the agreement. On the other hand, richer, inland provinces, except for the capital, Bogota, rejected the peace deal, leaving low prospects of national conciliation.