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Uribe calls for fresh presidential vote

Latest update : 2008-06-27

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe asked Congress to schedule an early presidential vote after a court questioned the legality of the law that let him seek reelection in 2006. (Report: S. Ambrus).


BOGOTA, June 27 (Reuters) - Colombian President Alvaro
Uribe said he wants to repeat the 2006 presidential election
that gave him a second term, in a combative response to a court
ruling that said the vote was tainted by corruption.

The Supreme Court found late on Thursday that a former
lawmaker was bribed into supporting a constitutional amendment
that allowed the popular U.S.-ally to seek re-election.

Uribe's reaction to the ruling stood Colombian politics on
its head. With about 80 percent popularity, according to
opinion polls, analysts agree he could win another election and
extend his time in office, but at a political price.

"This is his way of taking the momentum back from the
court. It's a brilliant counterpunch," said Mauricio Romero,
political science professor at Bogota's Javeriana University.

"He is saying that institutions do not matter as much as his
popularity does."

It was unclear if the president's gambit was a serious bid
for a special election or just a way to cow his detractors.

Even before the bribery scandal, Uribe had left open the
possibility of another change in law that would allow him to
run again in 2010, an idea that some of his closest allies
disagree with.

The scandal and the president's answer to it upset local
financial markets and could further complicate efforts at
passing a trade deal with the United States even though Uribe
is the White House's closest friend in South America.

A Wall Street favorite respected for his tireless work
ethic and unbending opposition to leftist guerrillas who killed
his father years ago in a kidnapping attempt, Uribe is known
for confronting his critics head-on.

The bespectacled president is seen as a hero to many for
cutting crime and sparking economic growth while cracking down
on rebels fighting a four-decade-old insurgency.

Romero said he has been losing support among political
leaders, government watchdog institutions and the media. "If he
goes ahead with the idea of repeating the 2006 election it will
be at a huge political cost," he said.

Colombia's peso currency fell on Friday after Uribe said
Congress should approve a referendum to allow voters to decide
if a repeat election will be held. This would take the matter
out of the hands of the courts, with which Uribe has feuded
over his hard-line policies.

The judges on Thursday sentenced ex-Congress member Yidis
Medina to nearly four years of house arrest for accepting
illegal favors from government officials in exchange for
supporting the re-election bill.


The court also asked constitutional authorities to
determine whether Uribe's re-election was legal in light of the
bribery, raising the possibility that it could be overturned
and sparking the ire of the famously short-tempered leader.

Colombia's peso fell 1.7 percent to 1,905 per U.S. dollar on
what traders called political jitters after Uribe accused the
judges of overstepping their bounds.

The opposition said Uribe is using the scandal to
consolidate his already strong influence over Colombia.

"He's using a bribery case to justify a new election that
would tighten his grip on power," said anti-Uribe columnist
Ramiro Bejarano.

The scandal comes on top of investigations linking some of
Uribe's closest congressional allies to far-right death squads.
Dozens of coalition members are accused of using paramilitary
thugs to intimidate voters.

The investigations have helped bog down a U.S. trade pact
that is being blocked by U.S. Democrats concerned about Uribe's
human rights record in a country that has suffered decades of
guerrilla war funded by the cocaine trade.

At one meeting at the presidential palace, Medina said
Uribe walked in and asked her to vote for the re-election
measure, assuring her that his administration would honor its
commitments to her.

But the government did not deliver on all its promises,
which she says led her to go public.



Date created : 2008-06-27