Colombia’s national vote on a peace deal negotiated over the last four years between the government and the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), failed on Sunday night, a result that defied expectations heading into the vote.
Results published online by national electoral authorities showed that the “No” vote, rejecting the peace deal, edged out the “Yes” vote, 50.23% to 49.76%.
Some 13 million of the 34.9 million Colombians eligible cast their votes, amounting to a participation rate of 37.39%, below the expected turnout of around 40%.
Polls conducted prior to the vote indicated that the “Yes” campaign had a solid lead, with some surveys finding it ahead by a two-to-one split.
Those opposed to the deal campaigned under the slogan, “Yes to peace, but not like this.” The “No” campaign has said win for their side would be a mandate for the government and rebels to negotiate a “better agreement.”
During the voting on Sunday, parts of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, considered a site of support for President Juan Manuel Santos and the deal, experienced bad weather related to Hurricane Matthew. Other parts of the country outside of the cities are remote and hard to reach, which may have influenced turnout as well.
And while polls prior to the vote indicated support for the deal, the FARC itself is widely disliked by Colombians. Though the deal would apply alternative punishments, like community service, to many rebels and hold others accountable for more serious crimes, the prospect of FARC emmberes avoiding jail time may have turned voters off.
The path forward for Colombia is not clear. A bilateral cease-fire had been in effect in the country since August 26, when the two sides reached an agreement in Havana. It is unclear whether that will continue.
“The no (win) generates uncertainty,” analyst Alvaro Forero told The Guardian.
Prior to the vote, Santos said the there was no Plan B should the vote fail, and that the country would return to war if the “No” vote won out. The president was not required to call the vote, and some of his advisers and FARC negotiators opposed the idea. But a vote was seen as a way to affirm the legitimacy of and popular support for the deal, and the outcome will be binding, according to the Associated Press.
What comes next for FARC rebels, who were slated to begin demobilizing and disarming after a “Yes” victory, remains uncertain.
FARC leaders, watching the results from Cuba, appeared to grow more concern as the outcome leaned toward “No.” As the deal’s defeat looked likely, the group issued a somewhat vague statement on Twitter, saying, “The love we feel in our hearts is gigantic and with our words and actions will be able to reach peace.”
The geographical breakdown of the voting posted online by Colombian electoral authorities indicated that much of the country’s western, southeasern, eastern, and norther regions — areas where the FARC has been more active — voted in support of the peace plan, contrasting with the country’s center, which leaned toward “No.”
The campaign in favour of the deal cited an end to the 52-years of violence as a reason to support a perhaps imperfect deal.
But opponents seem to have been motivated by a desire to see sterner punishments for the rebel group.
“I voted no. I don’t want to teach my children that everything can be forgiven,” Alejandro Jaramillo, 35, told Reuters, angered that the rebels would not serve jail time.
According to RCN Radio, Santos was meeting with his negotiating team as well as with military leadership to review the results of the vote.
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