Colombians have narrowly rejected a peace deal with Marxist insurgents after opinion polls showed a comfortable win.
The defeat plunged Colombia into uncertainty and handed President Juan Manuel Santos, who had staked his reputation on ending the 52-year war, a major setback.
Before the referendum, Santos, 53, said he had no Plan B and would return Colombia to war if the “no” vote won, Reuters reports.
Opinion polls had shown he would comfortably win and then be able to start implementing the deal painstakingly negotiated in Cuba over the past four years to end the longest-running conflict in the Americas.
But Colombian voters confounded that forecast as the “no” camp won with a tiny margin of 50.23 percent to 49.76 with votes from 99.59 percent of voting stations counted.
Opponents of the pact believed it was too soft on the FARC rebels by allowing them to re-enter society, form a political party and escape traditional jail sentences.
They want a renegotiation.
“I voted no. I don’t want to teach my children that everything can be forgiven,” said Alejandro Jaramillo, 35, angered that the rebels would not serve jail time.
Sunday’s vote had asked for a simple “yes” or “no” on whether Colombians supported the accord signed last Monday by Santos and the rebel commander known as Timochenko.
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as FARC, whose numbers were halved to about 7,000 in recent years because of a U.S.-backed military offensive, had agreed to turn in weapons and fight for power at the ballot box instead.
Influential former President Alvaro Uribe led the “no” camp, arguing that rebels should pay for crimes in jail and never be given congressional seats.
Under the accord, the FARC, which began as a peasant revolt in 1964, would have been able to compete in the 2018 presidential and legislative elections and have 10 unelected congressional seats guaranteed through 2026.
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