The voters did not come in Colombia’s failed anti-corruption referendum

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Colombians on Sunday, August 27, failed to approve rules that hardened punishment for corrupt officials, a measure sent to voters as a referendum after congress proved reluctant to implement stricter anti-graft measures.

Almost 11.7 million Colombians cast ballots overwhelmingly in favor of seven initiatives proposed to stamp out corruption in the upper echelons of power, failing to draw the 12.1 million voters needed to pass the initiatives, according to quick-count results from over 99 percent of polling stations.

But while most Colombians agree that corruption is a plague that needs to be exterminated, some believe putting it to a vote is not the best way to do so. Turnout in the country's recent presidential election barely reached 50 percent, while a 2016 referendum on a peace deal with leftist rebels to end a half century of fighting barely drew 13 million votes.

According to data from the Comptroller General's Office, corruption costs Colombia around 14 billion euros a year.

The referendum also asked if monthly salaries for lawmakers and other high-ranking officials should be limited to the equivalent of 25 minimum salaries, or almost $6,600.

Colombian law now sets senators' salaries at about $124,000 per year, more than what parliamentarians make in countries like Holland, Sweden and France.

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This consultation raises seven questions, on which the population must vote negatively or positively, in order to support or reject practices that give rise to acts of corruption at all levels of public administration.

Right-wing President Ivan Duque, who has promised to clamp down on graft with term limits and stiffer sentences, supported 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, said they preferred to support anti-corruption proposals in Congress instead.

"We were five cents short, but this has shaken the traditional political class", Angelica Lozano, a Green party senator who campaigned for "Yes", said on local radio.

"Yes" lawmakers will present a suite of laws based on the seven measures this week, the campaign said.

"Together we'll defeat those who ransack public resources, together we'll build the future that Colombia deserves", he said.

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