ColombiaOne.comColombia newsPetro Presents Proposals for his 'National Agreement' in Colombia

Petro Presents Proposals for his ‘National Agreement’ in Colombia

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Petro national agreement
The president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, has proposed 7 points to be submitted to a referendum in a future “national agreement” – Credit: Juan Diego Cano / Presidency of Colombia

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has announced his proposals for a “national agreement” in Colombia. After generating controversy in mid-March by proposing a National Constituent Assembly, the president now defends the idea that calling for the participation of the constituency, which is the Colombian people, does not necessarily imply modifying the Constitution.

In what he calls a “national agreement,” he proposes subjecting a series of proposals to a popular referendum to consult the citizens on aspects that, he says, “were not contemplated in 1991,” the year the current Constitution was promulgated in Colombia.

Back in March, when the political proposal began, the head of state insisted that “the constituent process convened is neither to change the 1991 Constitution, nor to perpetuate myself in power”. Petro ensured that the objective was “to resolve several fundamental problems that hinder Colombian society” and that until this moment the Constitution has not been able to solve.

Petro’s “national agreement” in Colombia

Although the presidential proposal raises doubts because it is not clear in its concreteness, the head of state emphasized that “constituent power does not necessarily mean a constituent assembly,” thus addressing criticisms from the opposition accusing him of “authoritarian drift” and of seeking to modify the Constitution.

This makes it clear that the president’s intention is not to modify the Constitution, for which a complex and lengthy process would need to be initiated involving consensuses and agreements that currently do not exist. In this sense, Gustavo Petro defends a “national agreement” that would materialize in subjecting a series of proposals to a referendum that, he says, were not taken into account when the constitutional text was drafted 33 years ago.

For President Petro, constituent power means allowing society to express itself and decide for itself through the various legal mechanisms provided by the law. In this regard, the head of state proposed this constitutional mechanism to negotiate “Colombia’s social reforms“, which have so far been unable to progress in Congress due to a lack of agreement.

From Cali, Petro invited the “Colombian oligarchy” to a “national agreement” for the “construction of a true democracy.” He then stated that, if an agreement is reached, it must be approved through a constitutional referendum.

Petro national agreement
Petro administration’s legislative proposals fail to advance in Congress with success – Credit: Miguel Olaya / CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed

The president’s 7 points to submit to referendum

In a social media post, Gustavo Petro outlined seven points that should confirm this popular consultation. These revolve around elements that have been key aspects of the president’s political proposals and align with the realization of agrarian reform, the climate crisis, political reforms, and peace.

In this regard, the specific proposals of the head of state are, firstly, the implementation of peace agreements regarding agrarian reform; secondly, the country’s adaptation to the climate crisis; thirdly, a new territorial arrangement and prioritization of public investment in drinking water and environmental sanitation; fourthly, political and judicial reform; fifthly, guaranteeing universal rights such as health, pensions, and free public education; sixthly, a workers’ rights statute; and seventhly, social forgiveness following truth, reparations, and guarantees of non-repetition to achieve lasting peace.

How does a referendum work in Colombia?

Although a referendum entails a less complex mechanism than a constitutional reform, the steps that must be followed according to the law are diverse and necessarily involve both the Congress and the Constitutional Court.

In this sense, to initiate the process, the government must present a referendum convocation bill to the Congress. If the legislative body approves it, the referendum bill automatically undergoes examination by the Constitutional Court. If the constitutionality of the proposal is agreed upon, the government can then call for the votes.

For the referendum vote to be valid, one-fourth of the current electoral census must turn out to vote, which is nearly 10 million people. Each question in the referendum must surpass this threshold and additionally be approved by a majority of the voters.

The recent history of referendums in the country has not been successful. Both the Anti-Corruption Consultation of 2018 and the re-election referendum in 2009 failed. The former did not surpass the participation threshold, thus rendering its vote null. And the referendum did not pass the scrutiny of the judiciary, which prevented the second reelection of former President Alvaro Uribe.

Petro national agreement
Justice declared unconstitutional the attempt of former president Uribe to run for a second reelection in 2009 – Credit: Democratic Center / CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed

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