On 20 March, the commission headed by Fernando Tuesta published a summary of its recommendations for political and electoral reforms and the full version is now available. All in all, if approved by President Vizcarra and ratified by the Congress, they would involve twelve changes to the existing legislative framework of which four would involve constitutional changes. The question that immediately raised itself was whether the Congress would approve the recommended changes. Almost immediately, Congessional President Daniel Salaverry countered the proposals by saying Congress, where opposition parties dominate, would contract its own specialists to suggest changes.
All the indications point to the way in which the Tuesta commission’s proposals will be watered down by Congress, or at least delayed until they cannot apply to the next round of presidential elections in 2021. A number of proposals for judicial reforms are stuck in Congress. The proposed political reforms are designed to cure many of the ills in the system by which the current Congress, dominated by Fujimoristas, was elected in 2016.
It is worthwhile spelling these out in some detail. El Comercio provided a useful guide in its issue on 21 March.
A key change would be to the rules governing registration of political parties. Currently, parties need to secure the signatures of 4% of those voting in the previous election, an absurdly high barrier to entry. Tuesta recommends scrapping this entirely and replacing it with a rule that would extend registration to those parties that can show they have a minimum number of signed-up members of around 14,000. Of these, no more than 30% could be concentrated in a single region. Where a party achieves less than five seats in the Chamber of Deputies or three Senate seats, its registration would be cancelled. Registration would also be cancelled if parties failed to mount sufficient candidates in local elections and if they failed to pay fines imposed by the electoral authorities for transgression of the electoral rules.
With respect to party democracy, the suggested changes would require all parties to select candidates for the presidency, Congress, regional governorships and mayors through obligatory and simultaneous primaries organised by ONPE, the organisation that administers elections. Candidates would have to show that they had belonged to the party for at least a year. No more than a fifth of the list of candidates could be people not affiliated to the party. Lists would have to involve gender parity.
The system of public financing of election costs would be extended and made more equitable between parties. It would be made available for party primaries as well as normal electoral activity. The rules governing accountability in spending would be tightened. The party, not the candidate, would be responsible for reporting expenses. The issue of party funding has been highlighted by the revelations resulting from the Odebrecht scandal.
The Tuesta commission would get rid of the obligation for new cabinets to be approved in Congress within 30 days, while votes of no-confidence and censure would apply only to cabinets as a whole, and not individual ministers. It would get rid of the constitutional clause on presidential resignation in cases of “permanent moral incapacity”. Tuesta would also restore the bicameral legislature abolished in 1993 by Alberto Fujimori’s constitution. The Senate would have 50 seats, the Chamber 130 (as at present).
The commission would reduce the time between the first and second round of elections to five weeks. In the last elections in 2016, it was eight weeks. Legislative elections would take place at the same time as the second round, not the first. A presidential candidate would no longer be barred from standing for Congress. The commission would also scrap the preferential vote system which allows voters to rank their choices for legislature among a party’s list of candidates, enabling these to compete with one another for votes. It would also limit candidates’ ability to raise their own election funds.
The proposals would limit the extent of parliamentary immunity from prosecution, allowing the Supreme Court to adjudicate in case of criminality. The constitution currently puts the responsibility for lifting immunity in the hands of Congress itself. Tuesta would tighten the rules governing the eligibility to stand for office of those convicted of criminal activity. Currently, candidates are required to state in their curriculum vitae crimes for which they were previously convicted. Practice has shown that many CVs omit such information.
Tuesta proposes getting rid of second round elections in regional governorship elections. There would also have to be gender parity between candidates in regional and local elections. Candidates for municipalities would also have to show they had lived in their district or region for at least two years. The duration of regional and municipal authorities would be extended from four years to five.
Other suggested changes include abolishing the so-called ley seca (by which alcohol cannot be sold in advance of elections) and reducing the prohibition on publication of opinion polls to 24 hours before voting.