Colombians vote on anti-corruption measures in Sunday referendum

Woman votes in a seven-question referendum on anti-corruption measures in Bogota, Colombia August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombians are voting on seven anti-corruption measures in a referendum on Sunday, including a reduction in lawmakers’ salaries and term limits for public posts, as graft scandals continue to spark outrage.

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

Corruption costs the country $17 billion a year, equivalent to 5.3 percent of GDP, the country’s comptroller has said.

The issue was a hot topic in the June presidential election, as candidates responded to popular outrage with a raft of reform promises. [nL2N1TA1PI]

At a polling station in northern Bogota, every voter approached by Reuters said they backed the yes side. It is widely expected that many opposed to the measures will not vote.

“It’s not fair we invest so much in congressional salaries when there’s so many families who don’t earn even two minimum salaries,” said Miriam Huerte, a 54-year-old house cleaner.

‘Yes’ is supported by many leftist and centrist lawmakers. A faux reggaeton video starring politicians encouraging people to vote yes was widely shared on social media this week.

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”.

However, several members of his party, including Alvaro Uribe, who is his mentor, an ex-president and current senator, have said they prefer to support anti-corruption proposals in Congress.

Uribe, whose administration was dogged by corruption probes, is now under investigation by the Supreme Court for alleged witness tampering and bribery. [nL1N1US0Q6]

The referendum’s top hurdle is likely to be meeting a quorum. To pass, each question must be voted on by at least a third of eligible voters, some 12 million people, and have the support of just over 6 million.

Some 36.4 million Colombians are eligible to vote. Only 19.5 million people voted in the second round of the presidential contest.

The questions that pass are to be incorporated into law by Congress within a year or implemented via presidential decree.

The referendum will ask if monthly salaries for lawmakers and other high-ranking officials should be limited to the equivalent of 25 minimum salaries, or nearly $6,600. Lawmakers currently earn more than $10,500 per month, compared with a minimum wage of about $260.

Other questions include bans on alternative sentences like house arrest for corruption, forcing elected officials to publish their tax returns and a three-term limit on local and national lawmakers.

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