But Lucia Newman, Al Jazeera's Latin America editor, says Uribe was already considered by many Colombians to be "authoritarian in style".

"Politicians, judges and  journalists have been spied on by Colombia’s security agency, which reports directly to the president.

"And there have consistent charges human rights abuses and killings of civilians by security forces throughout his presidency."

A number of politicians close to Uribe have also been linked to far-right paramilitary groups, although he denies any wrongdoing.

If congress approves the move, the referendum would need to be ratified by Colombia's constitutional court, a process that could take three months.

Twenty five per cent of Colombia's registered voters would then have to take part in the vote to amend the constitution to allow his re-election bid.