Editorial Del Miami Herald Contra La Reelección Uribista

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One too many

From the day he assumed office in 2002, President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia showed that he was the right man for the job. He took a country that existed under a perpetual, if undeclared, state of siege to something resembling normalcy by weakening and nearly destroying a Marxist-led insurgency, a goal that eluded a series of predecessors at Nariño Palace.

This remarkable achievement is a tribute to his energetic leadership. Unfortunately, Mr. Uribe and his supporters could destroy this legacy by seeking to extend his tenure for an unprecedented third term.

For Mr. Uribe to succumb to this political temptation would be a mistake, both for himself and for his country. Instead of being seen as the hero who brought Colombia back from the brink of chaos, he would be viewed as an ego-burdened politician seeking personal gratification. Instead of strengthening Colombia's institutions, he would weaken them by imposing a personalist brand of politics on the national government.

Until 2006, the Constitution limited a president to a single, four-year term. Mr. Uribe's performance was such that Colombia's voters thought he deserved to stay on the job. They approved a constitutionaal change that allowed a second term. Last week, the Senate gave the nod to another referendum that would permit a third term. That's one too many.

Twelve years in a job originally designed for a four-year presidency would give Mr. Uribe, or any similar aspirant, too much power.

A healthy democracy requires alternating leadership.

Undeniably, Mr. Uribe remains very popular in Colombia. A recent poll gave him a 71 percent approval rating, reflecting the esteem in which he is held in a country that had grown weary of seeing the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, terrorize its citizens.

But Mr. Uribe should not confuse the grateful feelings of the electorate for political strength. Just because he might win a third term doesn't mean he should try. A number of political scandals involving wiretapping and political surveillance of his opponents are swirling around Colombia's president and could destroy his political standing.

Mr. Uribe says he wants to ensure that Colombia continues on the same successful trajectory and worries that it could lose ground under someone else. These are valid concerns -- Colombia is not out of the woods yet. But there is no lack of good candidates to replace him, including former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and a former mayor of Medellín, Sergio Fajardo. Even admirers may have second thoughts if he tries to seek another term. History will judge Mr. Uribe better if he doesn't.

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