Will Colombia vote against corruption?

By Mathew Di Salvo August 13, 2018
anti-corruption referendum

Campaigners out on the street drumming up support for the anti-corruption vote.
Photo: Vence al Corrupto

Voters we spoke to were unaware of the August 26 anti-corruption referendum in which citizens will have the chance to make their feelings felt.

Colombians head to the polls for the fourth time this year on August 26 to vote on measures aimed at fighting corruption.

The referendum is the result of a citizen-driven anti-corruption bill which was passed by the Senate last month. Launched by senators Claudia López and Angélica Lozano of the Alianza Verde, the vote will allow Colombians to individually approve or reject seven different proposals – including lowering the salaries of congressmen and forcing politicians to make their income declarations public.

Anti-corruption legislation has continuously failed in past votes. This led López and Lozano to hit the streets with their Vence al Corrupto campaign and collect the requisite four million signatures to push the bill through.

For the issue to be approved, over 12 million people now need to turn out and vote. Each measure will then need to get more than 50% of the vote in order to pass.

López, who has also been actively campaigning on social media, said, “It is now or never! The anti-corruption vote is a miracle created by citizens.”

She continued, “On August 26 we have the opportunity to stop complaining about the corruption and defeat it with our vote. Vote seven times yes to lower the wages of congressmen, stop the gravy train [literally stop the ‘mermelada’], stop handing out direct contracts, stop house arrest instead of prison and other abuses by which they steal 50 billion per year from us.”

However on August 8, with weeks to go before the vote, the new Minister for the Interior, Nancy Patricia Gutiérrez announced that Duque’s government would push through their own additional anti-corruption legislation, prompting senator Uribe to say that he will not now support the citizen-led referendum. While there are some commonalities with the seven-point referendum, crucially the proposals to reduce the salaries of congressmen and to abolish house-arrest for those found guilty of corruption have been omitted from the government’s proposals.

This only adds to the challenge of reaching the required number of votes. Indeed, many exhausted voters, who have already hit the polls three times this year, weren’t aware of the referendum when asked by The Bogotá Post.

19-year-old student Michelle Hurtado, from Barranquilla, said: “I didn’t know anything about the vote, to be honest. But it’s important – this is a topic which has been bothering us for a long time.”

Bogotá-based journalist Carlos Aleman, 29, also didn’t know about the vote. He added: “I think it’s stupid it has even come to a vote, to be honest. Corrupt congressmen should be dealt with regardless.”

Nonetheless, it is a topic close to Colombians’ hearts and was a hot topic during the presidential election last month.