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.