In an attempt to gain legitimacy for his authoritarian and neoliberal programme, Uribe Vélez has arranged a referendum to take place in May. The referendum has no less than 18 issues to vote on, drafts of the voting sheet run to 11 pages. There are two main categories of question, those dealing with constitutional reform and those dealing with economic measures. The referendum will not be an exercise in democracy but in manipulation. No modern democracy has such a complicated arrangement, which is not surprising for there is considerable scope for confusion and misunderstanding in the voting.
Supporters of Uribe have presented his reforms as dealing with corruption and trimming off wasteful branches of the state. But the opposition point out that all the political changes will leave the executive with more power, and the economic changes are disguised cuts in state responsibility for welfare provision.
The rules of the game are that so long as at least 6 million vote, then Uribe’s false consultation with the people will be endorsed constitutionally. Even though he may lose the vote on any individual point this would be a propaganda victory for Uribe. That is why the Polo Democratico political opposition is saying that to simply vote No is not the right tactic, they are calling for active abstention as the best way to counter Uribe’s plan.
The three trade union centres (CUT, CGTD and CTC) have all joined the call for people not to go to the polls, and are convening a national conference on 30 and 31 January to plan mobilisations against the referendum in May.
The stage is set for a confrontation between the two sides. Uribe’s forces, official and unofficial, and the mass media will be doing everything they can to get people to the polls. In this referendum, supposedly against corruption, the potential for intimidation and corruption is enormous. It is vital that the international community stands with the opposition and accompanies the process.