Colombians reject peace agreement in plebiscite

By Veronika Hoelker October 2, 2016
Colombian plebiscite

With the results almost in, the Colombian people have voted to reject the peace accord.

Today, by a narrow majority, the country voted against the peace deal that has been agreed with the FARC in a plebiscite.

What could have been a historic day to end the more than 50 years of armed conflict between the FARC and the Colombian government, turned out to be a day of countless uncertainties: the Colombian people voted to disapprove the peace agreement between the FARC and the government.

13,063,581 Colombians went out to cast their vote in a national plebiscite today, with the NO vote winning only by an extremely small margin.

With a small proportion of votes still to come in, the results were: Yes: 49.78% and No: 50.21%. 37.41% of the nation voted, although the severe weather conditions meant that 12% of the polling stations – a possible four million people, 40% of them in rural areas – may had been unable to vote.

The regions most affected by the climate are the Caribbean, Chocó and the Sabana de Bogotá.

The electoral monitors reported that there were 37 possible irregularities reported in voting across the country. There were 12 reports of vote buying.

Colombia peace process, plebiscite Colombia

Results of the October 2 vote – Green: Yes, Orange: No.

Colombia peace process, plebiscite Colombia

Approximate presence of armed groups in Colombia

The agreement, signed between the left-wing rebel group and the government on September 26 in Cartagena, came after over four years of negotiations and sought to put an end the western hemisphere’s longest running armed conflict.

What happens now?

The next steps are not clear. The government had said prior to the vote that there would not be a return to the voting stations. However, the FARC immediately tweeted: “The love that we have in our hearts is huge and with our words and actions we are ready to reach peace.”

The population’s approval would have given the peace accord democratic legitimacy and it constitutes a crucial step in guaranteeing its implementation. However, the results of the plebiscite are only binding for the President (who called it).

As the Constitutional Court stated in its decision to uphold the plebiscite in July 2016, the ‘Yes’ vote would have obliged the President to take all necessary measures to legally implement the agreement. This will not happen now.

Congress may be able to ratify the agreement, but experts say there will be no way around modifying the text of the agreement. And it would be difficult for Congress to push through the necessary changes without the support of the population.

There are a lot of questions about whether the negotiations can re-open and – if they do – who would be a part of the new negotiating team. In addition, it is not clear what role the international partners (such as guarantor countries Norway and Cuba) might play, nor what would happen to the funding for further talks. The cash that has been promised by various countries to support post conflict would no longer be available.

Adam Isacson, analyst for Latin American research and advocacy group, WOLA said: “Look forward to hearing what, if anything, “Plan B” is going to be.”

He also explains that the ceasefire still applies, “The vote result doesn’t invalidate the ceasefire that is currently in place. Let’s hope it remains while #Colombia figures out what to do.”

In the coming days, the consequences of the vote will become clearer.

Veronika Hoelker holds a Master’s degree in International Relations of the Americas from UCL and currently works at the Bogotá-based NGO the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights. Veronika assists the judicial advisors at the NGO in matters related to transitional justice and the Colombian peace process in general.