- REUTERS/John Vizcaino
Colombia’s national vote on a peace deal negotiated over the last four years between the government and the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), failed on Sunday night, in a result that defied expectations heading into the day.
Results published online by national electoral authorities showed that the “No” vote, rejecting the peace deal, edged out the “Yes” vote, 50.2% to 49.7%.
Some 13 million of the 34.9 million Colombians eligible cast their votes, amounting to a participation rate of 37.39%, below the expected turnout of about 40%.
Colombians voting abroad appeared to swing heavily against the deal. With 65% of votes counted, Colombians in the US were opposed, 61% to 39%, according to the Miami Herald.
Polls conducted prior to the vote indicated that the “Yes” campaign had a solid lead, with some surveys finding it ahead by a two-to-one split.
The campaign in favor of the deal cited an end to the 52 years of violence as a reason to support a perhaps imperfect deal.
Those opposed to the deal campaigned under the slogan, “Yes to peace, but not like this.” The “No” campaign has said win for their side would be a mandate for the government and rebels to negotiate a “better agreement.”
- AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
And while polls prior to the vote indicated support for the deal, the FARC itself is widely disliked by Colombians. The rebel group’s half-century-long war claimed the lives of more than a quarter-million people and displaced some 7 million Colombians from their homes.
Though the deal would apply alternative punishments, like community service, to many rebels and hold others accountable for more serious crimes, the prospect of FARC members avoiding jail time may have turned voters off.
“I voted no. I don’t want to teach my children that everything can be forgiven,” Alejandro Jaramillo, 35, told Reuters, saying he was angered that the rebels would not serve jail time.
“It is absurd to reward those criminals, drug-traffickers and killers who have made the country a disaster for the past 50 years,” said retiree Jose Gomez, 70, who also voted against the deal. “If you reward crime, what moral authority do you have to tell a thief not to steal your mobile phone?”
- Thomson Reuters
“Peace is exciting, but the Havana accords are disappointing,” said Alvaro Uribe, a former president and the leader of the “No” campaign, according to AFP.
During the voting Sunday, parts of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, considered bastions of support for President Juan Manuel Santos and the deal, experienced bad weather related to Hurricane Matthew.
Other parts of the country outside of the cities are remote and hard to reach, which may have influenced turnout as well.
The path forward for Colombia is not clear. A bilateral cease-fire has been in effect in the country since August 26, when the two sides reached an agreement in Havana. It is unclear whether that will continue, or for how long.
“The no (win) generates uncertainty,” analyst Alvaro Forero told The Guardian.
Prior to the vote, Santos said the there was no Plan B should the vote fail and that the country would return to war if the “No” vote won out. The president was not required to call the vote, and some of his advisers and FARC negotiators opposed the idea. But a vote was seen as a way to affirm the legitimacy of and popular support for the deal, and the outcome will be binding, according to the Associated Press.
What comes next for FARC rebels, who were slated to begin demobilizing and disarming after a “Yes” victory, also remains uncertain.
FARC leaders, watching the results from Cuba, grew more solemn as the outcome leaned toward “No.” As the deal’s defeat looked likely, the group issued a somewhat vague statement on Twitter, saying, “The love we feel in our hearts is gigantic and with our words and actions will be able to reach peace.”
Speaking on the radio, FARC leader Rodrigo Londoño, known as Timochenko, said the group “maintains its desire for peace and reiterates its willingness to use only words as arms for building toward the future.”
Though it’s not known how talks will go forward or if they will at all, the FARC leadership has said that “no group sits at a negotiating table to agree to jail time,” according to Reuters.
The geographical breakdown of the voting posted online by Colombian electoral authorities indicated that much of the country’s western, southeastern, eastern, and northern regions – areas where the FARC has been more active – voted in support of the peace plan. That contrasted with the country’s center, which leaned toward “No.”
According to RCN Radio, Santos was to meet with his negotiating team as well as with military leadership to review the results of the vote.
Santos later gave a short statement in which he said he accepted the defeat.
The Colombian president reportedly ordered negotiators to return to Havana on Monday morning to meet with FARC leaders, according to The Washington Post’s Nick Miroff, who added that the cease-fire was to remain in place.
In a short statement issued on Sunday night, the FARC said it “deeply [regretted] that the destructive power of those who sow hatred and rancor have influenced the opinion of the Colombian population.”
The statement concluded: “To the Colombian people who dream of peace, count on us. Peace will triumph.”