Colombia’s Constitutional Court shut the door on President Alvaro Uribe’s aspirations for a third straight term, ruling unconstitutional a law that would have let voters decide in a referendum whether he could run again.
The high court’s 7-2 decision is not subject to appeal.
The court ruled on a law passed by Congress that would have set up a referendum asking voters whether Colombia’s conservative president, a US ally, could run again.
Mr Uribe is hugely popular for seriously weakening leftist rebels, but he has also been widely criticised by human rights activists for allying himself with politicians who collaborated closely with far-right death squads.
First elected in 2002, the 57-year-old Mr Uribe won re-election four years later after allies in Congress pushed through a law amending the constitution so he could run again
“I heed and respect the decision of the honourable Constitutional Court,” Mr Uribe told the nation in a live television broadcast.
“I have one wish: The wish to be able to serve Colombia from whatever trench, under whatever circumstance, until the last day of my life.”
Upon hearing the decision, a crowd of about 100 people near the court’s downtown offices broke into applause and shouts of approval.
Mr Uribe had been coy about whether he wanted a third term – expressing concern only that his “democratic security” policy that seriously cut kidnapping and murder rates be continued by whomever wins elections set for May 30.
In announcing the ruling after seven hours of deliberations, the Constitutional Court’s president, Mauricio Gonzalez, said justices found a number of irregularities in the passage of the law on the referendum for a third term.
He said that taken together, the anomalies amounted to “a grave violation of democratic principles like transparency and voter rights”.
The court objected to, among other things, the fact that the money spent to obtain the signatures required for the referendum law exceeded the legal maximum.