Colombia's vote against Farc peace deal: What the result means and what's next

A Colombian Guambiano indigenous woman votes in a referendum on a peace deal between the government and Farc rebels in Silvia on Oct 2, 2016.
A Colombian Guambiano indigenous woman votes in a referendum on a peace deal between the government and Farc rebels in Silvia on Oct 2, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

Colombian voters narrowly rejected a historic peace accord with communist Farc rebels in a referendum on Sunday (Oct 2) in a surprise outcome for the government, which had just days earlier signed an agreement with the rebels to effectively end the 52-year civil war.

The "no" camp won by 50.21 per cent to 49.78 per cent in a Brexit-style backlash that defied pollsters' predictions and left supporters of the deal in tears.

Here's a look at what the vote was about and what's next for the country.

1. What is the referendum about?

The referendum was held to ask voters whether to ratify the peace accord between the rebels known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or Farc, and the state. The vote was seen as the final hurdle to ending Latin America's longest-running conflict, which is estimated to have killed 260,000 people and displaced seven million.

The plebiscite asked voters a simple "yes" or "no" question on whether Colombians support the accord signed on Sept 26 by President Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his legacy on peace, and the rebel commander known as Timochenko.

The accord came after four years of negotiations in Cuba and had been met with praise internationally, including from United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, the White House and the Vatican.

Nearly all major polls had indicated that the deal would be approved resoundingly and Mr Santos had said there was no "Plan B" in case of a defeat.

2. Why was the deal rejected?

The outcome revealed the depths of Colombian public animosity towards the rebels, accumulated by decades of kidnappings, bombing and land seizures in the name of a Marxist-Leninist revolution.

While the accord covered justice and compensation for the victims and an end to the cocaine production that has fuelled the conflict, to many Colombians who had lived in fear of the rebels, the agreement was too lenient.

Opponents of the pact felt it gave rebels too much leeway by allowing them to re-enter society, form a political party and escape jail sentences. The deal would have also guaranteed the Farc 10 seats in Congress between 2018 and 2026 in return for handing in their weapons to UN monitors.

Regions still riven by the conflict, including poor areas along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, voted resoundingly in favour of the deal, but formerly violent interior regions backed the "no" camp. Voter turnout could have also been at play. Heavy rains along the Caribbean coast, one of Mr Santos's strongholds, may have also sapped support for the accord.

In addition, some Colombians may have also felt pressured to tell pollsters they were voting for peace despite private doubts.

3. What happens next?

The result has thrown Colombia's future into uncertainty. Commentators have compared the drama of the result to that of June's surprise "Brexit" vote for Britain to leave the European Union.

However, there is no immediate prospect of a return to all-out violence. Mr Santos has said the bilateral ceasefire will hold, and he will continue to seek a negotiated settlement.

Experts say it appears likely that the government would try persuading opponents in the Colombian Congress, most notably former president Alvaro Uribe, who had led the fight against the agreement, to agree to a new deal.

Farc leader Rodrigo Londono told local radio stations the group retains a willingness to use words rather than weapons, and that "peace will triumph".

Mr Santos is sending his negotiating team to Cuba on Monday to meet the Farc. He'll also call a meeting of all parties, including Uribe's Democratic Center Party, to try to work out how to proceed.

SOURCE: BLOOMBERG, THE WASHINGTON POST, THE NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE