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Colombian lawmakers approve a one-term limit for presidents

Law, backed by recently reelected Santos, seen as ploy to keep Uribe from running in 2018

President Juan Manuel Santos, during a speech.
President Juan Manuel Santos, during a speech. AFP

The Colombian Chamber of Deputies approved a measure late Wednesday that will prevent presidents from serving more than one term in office.

Discussed in eight separate debates, the initiative forms part of a constitutional reform to help balance public powers. Introduced last September, it has the backing of President Juan Manuel Santos, who was reelected last year to a second term.

The new law can only be abolished through a constitutional assembly or by a national referendum

But the new law is also said to be aimed at keeping Santos’s predecessor and political rival, Álvaro Uribe, from running for a third presidential term in 2018, as has been rumored in the Colombian press.

With 90 votes in favor and 10 against, the bill will now go to Santos for his signature.

The only manner in which the new law can be abolished is through a constitutional assembly or in a national referendum, according to its text.

The proposal had caused even deeper rifts between supporters of the current president and Uribe, who served from 2002 to 2010.

Once close allies – Santos served as his defense minister – the two leaders had a much-publicized falling out soon after Uribe left office. The former president began to criticize Santos’s efforts to patch up relations with Uribe’s then-arch enemy, the late President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

The proposal had caused even deeper rifts between supporters of the current president and Uribe

Their relationship further deteriorated when the Santos government announced that it was opening peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in an effort to put an end to a more than 50-year insurgency. Uribe said then that Santos was going easy on terrorism.

As a senator, Uribe has also criticized the Santos government's management of the economy and the growing crime problem.

Following his reelection last year, Santos introduced the term-limit measure in Congress because he said it would bring fairness to the checks-and-balances system in Colombia. In 2004, Uribe lifted the measure so he could run for a second time.

“Dismantling the reelection mechanism opens the gates to reestablishing the balance of powers in our country,” Santos said, following a tough presidential campaign in which his opponent and Uribe ally, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, won in the first round.

Uribe’s allies in the Democratic Center party bench in Congress had opposed the bill because they believe it only had one major purpose – to keep the former president from running.

During the final debate, Edward Rodríguez, who represents the Democratic Center, tried to introduce an amendment that would have permitted Uribe to run in 2018. However, the proposal was defeated on the basis that it should have been presented during the first round of debates.

Rodríguez said the reform was “revenge against Álvaro Uribe.”

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