Colombia: Anti-graft referendum fails to meet quorum

Duque casts his ballot in Bogota during the nationwide referendum

Duque casts his ballot in Bogota during the nationwide referendum

Electoral officials count ballots after tables closed during the seven-question referendum on anti-corruption measures in Bogota, Colombia August 26, 2018.

Corruption has become a hot topic in the country in recent years as security has improved and Colombians have increasingly turned their attention to headline-grabbing cases, including vote-buying, graft to obtain public contracts and the extradition of the country's anti-corruption czar for allegedly taking bribes.

"We already have lots of anti-corruption laws", said Hermens Lara, a Bogota municipal judge who is director of the Board of Judges and Magistrates of Colombia.

Right-wing President Ivan Duque, who promised during his campaign to clamp down on graft with term limits and stiffer sentences, supports the referendum and has called corruption a "cancer".

The measure included seven proposals, from cutting high-ranking officials' salaries to imposing term limits to eliminating house arrest as a punishment. The current salary of a Colombian Congressman is over $10.5 thousand per month, while the minimum wage in the country - approximately $260.

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That face of corruption in Colombia marks a stark change from the days when cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar was elected to Congress and his rivals in the Cali Cartel helped elect a president.

Senator and Green Alliance leader Claudia Lopez, a backer of the referendum, said on radio that if Congress fails to pass the new rules within a year, Duque will be able to install them by decree.

But today, experts say the biggest threat comes from white-collar criminals.

For each question to be valid, it must be voted on, at least, by a third of the electoral census that contemplates about 36 million voters; that is, for more than 12 million citizens.

Lopez said she began to push for the referendum after Congress repeatedly rejected anti-corruption bills that her party had proposed. "That's why this referendum is the best tool we have to tackle corruption". In the fight against corruption we have to be united as Colombians.

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