Colombia votes down peace deal in shock result, but FARC and gov't commit to ending conflict

October 3, 2016

Peace supporters react to the plebiscite result.

The "No" vote was won by a half of a percentage point in a Colombian plebiscite on October 2 on a peace deal between the government and the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which aims to end more than five decades of civil war.

The agonisingly narrow vote (with about 70,000 votes difference) means the deal failed to receive popular ratification in a poll marred by a turn out of less than 40%. However, despite the result, TeleSUR English reported, both the FARC and President Juan Manuel Santos reaffirmed support for the cease fire across the country, and to seeking a peaceful resolution. 

The "No" campaign was led by hard-right ex-president Alvaro Uribe who is infamous for ties with right-wing death squads, and the big land-owning oligarchs. They campaigned hard against the proposal to grant former FARC guerillas "amnesty" for any alleged crimes and for a smooth transition into civilian life. A key part of the deal was to allow democratic space for FARC members to campaign peacefully for their socialist politics. This is essential for the FARC, as a move to electoral politics in the 1980s by the group was met with savage state-sponsored violence that killed thousands of leftists.

However, the Uribe-led "No" camp condemned such moves as a free pass for "terrorists", in a campaign denounced as "dirty" and fear-mongering" by supporters of the deal.

TeleSUR English reported that with 99% of the vote in, the "No" won by a narrow margin of 50.23% to 49.76% for the "Yes" vote. The "No" has 6,426,615 votes to 6,365,838 votes for the "Yes." Voter turnout was very low, under 40%, which amounted to 13 million of the 35 million eligible voters.

The surprising results — which went against all exit polls that had the "Yes" vote winning easily — showed that the areas most affected by the conflict overwhelmingly voted "Yes" for peace. For example, in the heavily affected area of Choco, with 95% of the vote counted, 79% voted "Yes." The Caribbean provinces have also voted "Yes." In the capital of Bogota, the "Yes" vote won by 56% to 44% for the "No" vote.

The plebiscite was non-binding and now the Colombian congress can still elect to pass the laws necessary to comply with the accords, although the amnesty law was built into the plebiscite and basically makes the agreement null. 

TeleSUR English said: "Now the questions arise as to why would the Colombian people vote against peace. The FARC-EP had consistently called for a Constituent Assembly instead of a plebiscite, arguing that an assembly would be much more representative and would guarantee the participation of the most marginalized and affected peoples in Colombia and would go beyond a simple yes or no vote.

"In light of the vote, the FARC-EP said in an official statement that it will continue to pursue peace, using its words to reach peace and finally said it is confident that peace will prevail. President Santos said he will abide by the vote, but will not give up on peace, sending negotiators back to Havana, Cuba to meet with FARC-EP counterparts.

He said he will also convene a meeting tomorrow of all political forces including the 'No' forces to dialogued about what can be done. Most importantly, he reiterated that the bilateral cease-fire between the FARC-EP and the government will continue to be in effect."

FARC leader Timoleon Jimenez said: “The FARC-EP commits itself to use only words as weapons for peace. The struggle for peace continues ... there is still hope [despite the campaign led by] destructive powers planting the seeds of hatred and resentment among Colombia's people.

“Whoever wishes peace in Colombia can rely on the FARC-EP. Peace shall win!”

Santos said: "“I am the guarantor of the country's stability, my duty is to maintain public order while continuing to seek peace for the country. We all want peace, without exception. 

“I will not surrender. We will all come out stronger from this. We will find peace and move forwards.” 

In response, Santos said he would convoke all the political forces, “especially the forces supporting the 'No,' in order to find points of agreement and unity”.

Colombians went to the polls to vote on the approval or rejection of the peace agreement reached between the Santos government and the FARC  guerrillas after nearly four years of negotiations. The question posed to the population was: “Do you support the final accord for the end of the conflict and the construction of stable and lasting peace?”

The final text of the peace deal was signed on September 26 by Santos and Jimenez. The historic act has now been thrown into doubt by the plebiscite outcome.

[Read more TeleSUR English coverage of Colombia.]

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