BOGOTÁ, Colombia (Reuters) — A Colombian court on Friday rejected as unconstitutional a proposed referendum that would have asked voters whether to allow President Álvaro Uribe of Colombia to seek re-election to a third consecutive term.
The decision by the Constitutional Court appeared to end Mr. Uribe’s effort to overturn the constitutional limit of two consecutive terms. Mr. Uribe, a conservative populist, is the United States’ staunchest ally in Latin America.
He told reporters that he accepted the court ruling and that he would not run for a third term in the May presidential election.
“I accept and I respect the decision of the Constitutional Court,” Mr. Uribe said.
The court decision signals the start of a tough campaign among political rivals seeking to replace Mr. Uribe, who after almost eight years in power has became one of Colombia’s most popular presidents, in part because of his American-backed campaign against leftist guerrillas.
The court, in a 7-to-2 vote, decided to support a previous recommendation from one of its judges, who argued that the full panel of judges should reject the referendum because of irregularities, including the financing of the campaign in support of the referendum and the measure’s rocky passage through Congress. Under Mr. Uribe, the insurgency in Colombia, which is the oldest in Latin America, has ebbed and foreign investment has flowed steadily into the country, which was once considered a failed state. Many Colombians have praised Mr. Uribe for having steered the country onto the right track.
The candidates trying to replace Mr. Uribe are expected to hew fairly closely to his security policies, although many of them say they will concentrate more than he did on social development. Colombia is the world’s third largest coffee exporter.
Mr. Uribe’s former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos, who is closely associated with the president’s security successes against the leftist FARC guerrillas, has been leading in most public opinion polls when Mr. Uribe is not included as a candidate.