Many Colombians broke into tears as Colombian plebiscite results showed a slight majority of the country rejected the peace accord reached between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, which has thrown peace prospects into uncertainty after four solid years of negotiations that have involved international actors and massive political capital.
The "No" won by a narrow margin, with 50.23 percent to 49.76 percent for the "Yes" vote. The result came as a shock as it contradicted almost all polls ahead of the vote which suggested an easy win for the “Yes" vote.
One of the most contentious issues at the heart of the vote was granting amnesty to the FARC-EP guerillas, which the “No” camp, led by right-wing former president Alvaro Uribe, capitalized on and used as powerful ammunition to target people’s emotions.
Social media was flooded with “we will not grant terrorists impunity," and “No to allowing criminals to lead the country,” as supporters of the “No” vote justified their rejection of the peace deal.
The plebiscite rules, which were decreed by President Juan Manuel Santos, had a provision that required a “Yes” vote for passing the amnesty law despite the vote being non-binding when it came to all other aspects of the peace deal.
What this means is that an amnesty for the leftist fighters is formally dead which seriously jeopardizes any peace deal as the guerrillas’ are unlikely to give up their arms without being granted protection and freedom.
Also, the bilateral cease-fire that went into effect a few weeks ago, upon finalizing the deal in Havana, could now be threatened as Santos had warned ahead of the vote that rejecting the peace deal could in one way or another end the truce.
However, Santos confirmed Sunday following the results, that the cease-fire remains in effect. Meanwhile, FARC-EP rebel leader, Timoleon Jimenez, confirmed that his group would not be returning to the battlefield as it maintained its desire for peace despite the “No” vote.
"The FARC reiterates its disposition to use only words as a weapon to build toward the future," Jimenez, known by his nom de guerre, Timochenko, said. "To the Colombian people who dream of peace, count on us, peace will triumph."
While the plebiscite was largely non-binding, meaning that congressional lawmakers would have the last say on approving or rejecting the deal, the vote was meant to provide a broad democratic legitimacy for the deal.
It is not clear what the “No” vote would mean as the repercussions continue to unfold, the Colombian congress is now faced with the choice of beginning the process of passing the laws to abide by the peace accords, or go with the "No" vote and take no action.
But Santos stressed his government would “pursue peace to the end." He added he would send his negotiators back to the Cuban capital to meet with the FARC-EP leaders and discuss the results of the referendum.
The Colombian leader, who served as the defense minister under Uribe himself, has also said that he would invite leaders of the “No” camp in order to hear their concerns.
It is important to note the FARC-EP had consistently called for a constituent assembly instead of a plebiscite, arguing that an assembly would be much more representative and would guarantee the participation of the most marginalized and affected peoples in Colombia and would go beyond a simple yes or no vote.
In fact, a look at how different regions in Colombia voted showed that the areas most affected by the conflict have overwhelmingly voted "Yes" for peace. For example in the heavily affected area of Choco, more than 79 percent voted "Yes." The Caribbean provinces also voted "Yes."
However, the vote came at the unfortunate time when Hurricane Matthew hit the northern Caribbean region affecting the votes of more than 4 million people as reports suggested that some polling stations were closed, while many had difficulty reaching the stations due to heavy rains and flooding.
While much remains uncertain about the future of the deal, which would end the half-century-long conflict that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people, the two main parties at the negotiation table have said they are committed to peace.