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Cablegate: Uribe Calls for New Elections After Court

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UNCLAS BOGOTA 002373

SENSITIVE
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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PTER PHUM CO
SUBJECT: URIBE CALLS FOR NEW ELECTIONS AFTER COURT
QUESTIONS LEGITIMACY OF 2006 REELECTION PROCESS

SUMMARY
-------
1. (SBU) President Uribe addressed the nation at midnight on
June 27, calling for the "repetition of the 2006 presidential
elections." His speech was prompted by the Supreme Court's
request--in its ruling sentencing former Congresswoman Yidis
Medina to 47 months of house arrest for selling her vote in
favor of the 2004 constitutional amendment that allowed Uribe
to run for a second term--that the Constitutional Court
review the validity of the reelection amendment process.
Uribe's request would likely require at least 8-12 months to
complete. Opposition presidential candidate Rafael Pardo
said the legitimacy of Uribe's 2006 landslide reelection was
"not in doubt;" Polo Democratico President Carlos Gaviria
said Uribe's proposal represents an attempt to set up a
"populist dictatorship. Uribista parties appeared stunned by
the proposal. End summary.

URIBE CALLS FOR NEW ELECTIONS
-----------------------------
2. (U) President Uribe, reacting to the Supreme Court's
request that the Constitutional Court review the
constitutional amendment process that allowed Uribe to run
for a second term, called on Congress to approve in an
emergency session a referendum law that would "order the
immediate repetition of the 2006 presidential elections." In
his midnight address, Uribe also slammed the Supreme Court's
Medina ruling, which he said was based on the confessions of
a known liar. He accused the Court of practicing "selective
justice" and said "the trap of the power of a dying
terrorism, which Supreme Court magistrates have lent
themselves to, does not seem to have a judicial solution."
Uribe also criticized the Court for "pressuring the
president" over his decision to extradite paramilitary
leaders to the United States.

COURT QUESTIONS LEGITIMACY OF 2006 ELECTIONS
--------------------------------------------
3. (U) The Supreme Court noted that the Constitutional Court
has jurisdiction over the amendment issue, and said it would
forward its Medina ruling to the Constitutional Court. The
Supreme Court sentenced Medina to 47 months of house arrest
after she plead guilty to receiving bribes in exchange for
her support in a 2004 Congressional committee vote on the law
that permitted President Uribe's reelection. Local human
rights groups had already petitioned the Constitutional Court
to examine the legality of the reelection process in
Congress, and media reports indicate the Court has agreed.
It is unclear how long the review will take.

INVESTIGATIONS CONTINUE
-----------------------
4. (U) The Supreme Court also continues its investigation
against former-Congressmen Teodolindo Avendano and Ivan Diaz,
and the Prosecutor General (Fiscalia) is investigating former
Interior Minister and current Ambassador to Italy Sabas
Pretelt and Minister of Social Protection Diego Palacio for
their roles in the Medina case. Pretelt testified in the
Fiscalia on June 25 in the case, and denied all bribery
charges. On June 27, Uribe said the Congress' Accusations
Commission should investigate allegations by extradited
former-para leader Salvatore Mancuso of ties between Supreme
Court magistrates and paramilitaries. Palacio also asked the
Commission, responsible for investigating members of the high
courts, to investigate the Supreme Court magistrates for
making false accusations.

NEW ELECTIONS NOT AN EASY TASK
------------------------------
5. (SBU) Congress President Senator Nancy Patricia Gutierrez,
herself under preliminary investigation by the Supreme Court
for possible paramilitary ties, said it would take Congress a
minimum of one-two months to approve a law authorizing a
referendum on new elections "if there is the political will
to do so." She added that the process of calling the
Congress into emergency session would not be easy, and
political parties--still trying to absorb the president's
surprise request--would need time to determine whether to
support the effort. Gutierrez said it remained unclear
whether the referendum law would be designed to approve the

completion of Uribe's current term, a new four-year term, or
a third term.

6. (SBU) Supreme Judicial Council Magistrate Angelino Lizcano
said that if Congress approves the law authorizing a
referendum, the Constitutional Court would have six months to
review the text. The referendum would then be put to a
popular vote, which would require a simple majority with a
minimum 25 percent turnout of registered voters
(approximately 7 million) to be valid. The process would
take a minimum of 8-12 months to complete. Uribe could
possibly opt for other constitutional mechanisms to seek a
renewal of his mandate, such as: a plebiscite, popular
consultation, or open council--each of which has distinct
rules and procedures. Presidential elections are scheduled
for May 2010. Under the current Constitution, Uribe would
not be allowed to run.

REACTION
--------
7. (SBU) Uribe's speech stunned political observers, and
media coverage the morning of June 27 was blanketed by
analysis of what might come next. Opposition Liberal Party
presidential candidate and former Defense Minister Rafael
Pardo said the legitimacy of Uribe's 2006 election was "never
in doubt" after Uribe's huge 62% landslide victory. He said
all sides needed to think with "cool heads" to avoid
destabilizing the country, and urged Uribe to allow the
"appropriate judicial institution" (the Constitutional Court)
to act before moving ahead with a referendum or new
elections.

8. (SBU) Former Mayor Lucho Garzon said Uribe's move
represented a "journey into the unknown" that could damage
Colombia's institutions. Congress President Gutierrez, of
the increasingly independent Cambio Radical Party, told us
she could not predict what Cambio (or Congress) might do.
She would consult with Party president and likely
presidential candidate German Vargas Lleras. Polo President
Carlos Gaviria told us Uribe's proposal represented an
attempt at "populist dictatorship," adding that the president
had to allow independent judicial institutions to function
whether he liked their rulings or not.

BROWNFIELD

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