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Colombian Judges Stop Álvaro Uribe's Reelection Plans

Back in 2005, in a 7-2 decision, the Colombian Constitutional Court decided to uphold the constitutional amendment that allowed current president, Álvaro Uribe, to be reelected. Today, also in a 7-2 decision, the Colombian Constitutional Court decided that it won’t take place the referendum that would have given to voters the last word on whether Mr. Uribe could be re-elected for a third time. Press reports mention that the main reasons behind the Court’s decision are the insurmountable vices of unconstitutionality that occurred when collecting the necessary number of signatures from people in favor of having a referendum on the issue, in particular the violation of explicit spending limits in the pro-referendum campaign. The details of the arguments will be known once the decision is publicly released, but so far it seems that the decision falls on technical and procedural grounds and that the Court did not enter the difficult terrain of the constitutionality of term limits per se.

As our colleague Tom Ginsburg wrote in this blog recently, former Niger’s President Mamadou Tandja disbanded the constitutional court that ruled against his attempt to be reelected. In Latin America, Tandja’s decision is similar to that of former Peruvian president, Alberto Fujimori, who also impeached the constitutional judges who back in 1997 declared unconstitutional his attempt for a third reelection. Álvaro Uribe has not yet reacted to this decision by the constitutional court, but it is expected that he will fully comply with it. If that is the case, he will join the minority (20% according to Tom Ginsburg’s data) of leaders who are not successful in the attempt to overstay their term. And perhaps the much smaller minority of leaders who are not succesful because of a judicial decision.



  1. Raul Sanchez UrribarriFebruary 26, 2010 at 9:44 PM

    Uribe spoke a couple of hours ago and reassured he would respect the decision, and 'agreed' that people's participation cannot trump the Constitution and the laws. I am particularly curious about the dissenting opinions (I wonder what the arguments were). Julio is right that the Court avoided the thorny issue of the constitutionality of term limits. What recent examples do we have of courts allowing presidents to run for another term in recent years? Costa Rica and Venezuela come to mind. Any other example in the region?

  2. Raul Sanchez UrribarriFebruary 26, 2010 at 9:54 PM

    Just remembered Nicaragua (a complicated series of decisions concerning Ortega's reelection bid) and, of course, Honduras! (though the latter involves a more complicated situation)

  3. Its fascinating that constitutional courts are beginning to be involved so regularly in this issue, which anecdotally seems to have been left to referendum politics most of the time. It is a tribute to the institutionalization Colombian democracy that a president so popular will step down in response to the court decision.

    In our draft paper (soon to be posted on SSRN) we find that most term limit evasions occur in Latin America (not surprising give the long history of both presidentialism and autocracy) but that the frequency of evasion is declining in the region. In the rest of the world, however, evasion is becoming more frequent.


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