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Colombia lower house approves referendum on allowing third presidential term

[JURIST] The Colombian House of Representatives [official website, in Spanish] on Tuesday voted 85-5 [official results, DOC, in Spanish] to approve a bill [text, PPS, in Spanish] to hold a referendum on whether President Alvaro Uribe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] can run for a third presidential term. There were 76 abstentions. To pass the bill, 83 votes were necessary, and one of the additional votes came from a representative who had vowed to abstain [El Heraldo report, in Spanish] from voting because of a preliminary investigation into his actions in the 2004 voting process on the constitutional amendment that allowed Uribe to run for a second term. The bill will now have to be evaluated within the next 90 days by the Constitutional Court [official website, in Spanish]. Also Tuesday, the Supreme Court [official website, in Spanish] of Colombia issued a decision [El Heraldo report, in Spanish] to continue investigating 86 members of Congress for alleged irregularities and receiving political favors during the 2004 voting process and for ties to paramilitary forces. On Wednesday, a leading conservative senator accused of receiving political favors in 2004 turned himself in [Telam report, in Spanish] after the Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for him on Tuesday. The opposition and members of academia have decried [press release, PDF, in Spanish] the proposed referendum as a severe damage to democracy, and some Uribe supporters have also spoken against the measure. Uribe has not officially announced whether he would run for re-election if the referendum results were in favor of allowing a third term.

The Colombian Senate [official website] in May approved [press release, in Spanish; JURIST report] a proposal to hold a referendum on amending the country's constitution [text, in Spanish] to allow for a third presidential term. Uribe was elected to a second term in 2006 after a similar referendum, approved by Congress [NYT report] in December 2004 and the Constitutional Court [JURIST report] in October 2005, lifted the original one-term limit. In June 2008, the Colombian Supreme Court ruled [AP report] that a legal inquiry should be held into the election after it found that a legislator had been bribed to help push through the constitutional changes. In response, Uribe called for a referendum [JURIST report] on the election.

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