Colombia: Do we need longer government periods?

The president of the Colombian Senate, Ernesto Macías, suggested through his Twitter account to extend the presidential term of Iván Duque to five years

Extend periods of government in Colombia: a blow to democracy?

"For the discussion: periods of government in Colombia for five years. And to unify them, run presidential elections one year; that is, in 2023 separate elections (May and October) of President and regional elections would be held." Wrote Ernesto Macias, president of the Senate, on October 21 on his Twitter account. The commentary was given within the framework of the debates that took place in Colombia's Congress to extend for two years the terms of mayors and governors to unify the governmental periods.

Leer en español: Más tiempo en el poder: ¿Un golpe a la democracia colombiana?



Although Macías' proposal was not made in a formal manner, it generated opinions both for and against. However, both President Iván Duque and the Vice President, Martha Lucía Ramírez, rejected the initiative through their social networks.

Iván Duque, who is in Rome in the middle of a tour of Europe, answered on October 22 through Twitter "The Colombians elected me for four years. I do not aspire to reelection or extension of periods. In that time I will work for a Pact for Colombia and for the affection of my compatriots. Our goal is to build a country of legality, entrepreneurship, and equity. "



Vice President Ramírez also said: "The Colombians chose us to work for the country for the next 4 years. Any alteration in the current government periods, injure the institutionality and ignore the terms of the democratic mandate."



Duque and Ramírez agree that this extension constitutes a violation of the parameters established in the constitution before the period of government, and for this, they use the figure of the "programmatic vote". This figure establishes that in Colombia people vote for a government program that must be fulfilled in a defined period, not by a person.

Once someone is elected, for example as president, the campaign's government plan becomes the National Development Plan. This plan is mandatory and must be carried out in the period established by the Constitution, which is four years. By extending the period of Duque one year, it would be a year in which there would not be a plan chosen by the people. This is because the plan for which they voted would have already been fulfilled.

What benefits would it bring to unify the periods of the rulers?

According to the project of constitutional reform that seeks to extend until 2022 the period of the mayors and governors, in order to unify the periods of the rulers, some of their benefits are:

  1. The unification as a measure to save campaign costs and in the general management of the electoral period and the elections.
  2. It is oriented to direct regional plans coordinated with the National Development Plan. That is, unified government programs are generated for local, regional and national development.
  3. The incoming president would be allowed to reach agreements to have common political strategies with the leaders.
  4. The ease of applying the law of guarantees in electoral matters.

However, the difference of two years in the elections of mayors and governors in relation to the presidential and Congress has its justification in the constituent of 91.

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The historical context of the difference of governmental periods

Colombia until the 1991 constitution was a centralist state, meaning that power was concentrated in the executive. In the constituent of 91, the election of Governors was the faculty of the president. The governors, in turn, were responsible for electing mayors (although this was until 1986 through a legislative act ).

However, this election mechanism represented a serious impediment to regional development, since the Government (including mayorships and governorships) was looking for plans that would work or comply with the National Development Plan, even to the detriment of the specific needs of each department.

Because of this, one of the most important decisions of the constituent of 91 was to approve the popular vote of mayors and governors, as a measure to ensure the decentralization of power. Administrative decentralization is one of the constitutional pillars of Colombia, and this is precisely why some opponents to the unification of government periods are cataloging it as a substitution of the constitution.

Other constitutional implications with the proposal to unify government periods

One element to consider in the face of this constitutional reform is that to unify the periods, it requires the extension of the current mayors and governors for two years. This can be considered an attack on democracy, another of the Colombian constitutional pillars, for several reasons. The foregoing because:

  • In the first place, it incurs an abuse towards the electors, who voted for a four-year program, which also has to be fulfilled in that period. The two additional years would involve voting for a new government plan or an undemocratic act in which a plan is executed for which people did not vote.
  • Second, it represents a violation for those who wish to be elected. The constitutional reforms require eight debates in the Congress (four more than the law reforms), so the debates could be extended until mid-2019. By now, the candidates for mayorships and mayoralties must have presented and generated actions to make valid their candidacies, so that not only this work would be lost, but also the possibility of choosing and being elected in the period constitutionally defined for it.

Despite the positions, in favor and against, the constitutional reform project is underway and on October 16 the first debate was approved in the First Commission of the House of Representatives.


LatinAmerican Post | Mariela Ibarra

Translated from: 'Extend periods of government in Colombia: a blow to democracy?'


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