On 14 October, the Venice Commission, a consultative body that is part of the Council of Europe, delivered its opinion on the question put to it by the president of the Peruvian Congress about the constitutionality of the attempt by the executive to bring forward the date of elections to April 2020. As readers will recall, the executive at one point sought to link this to a question of confidence in the cabinet which, if refused by Congress, would have enabled the president to dissolve the legislature.
As it turned out, of course, it was not a constitutional reform which triggered the dissolution but the attempt to pass a law on procedures for elections to the Constitutional Tribunal (TC) that would guarantee transparency.
Indeed, it was the decision of the congressional constitution committee that previously shelved the move to bring forward the date of elections without even referring it to the plenum. As it turned out, this proved something of an own goal by the majority on the commission that sought to thwart the dissolution. It was also something of a snub to the Venice Commission which was at that moment present in the country seeking to clarify the issue.
In its report, the Venice Commission stressed the point it made repeatedly when in Peru, that its advice was just that: advice. It made clear that it is up to the TC to adjudicate disputes between the roles of executive and legislature.
However, in its conclusions the Venice Commission makes clear that any change to the constitution needs to be measured, clearly debated and involve the participation of civil society. Vizcarra’s attempt to bring forward the date of elections, first announced in his Independence Day speech did not necessarily meet all these requirements.
The Commission stated (para 40) that “if the rules and procedures on constitutional change are open to interpretation and controversy, or if they are applied too hastily or without democratic discourse, then this may undermine political stability, and ultimately the legitimacy of the constitution itself.”
Thus, while the Venice Commission expressed sympathy with the complaints made by the Congress, this was not the issue on which the dissolution was triggered. Moreover, it made clear that, in its opinion (para 43), “the Peruvian constitution does not set forth any explicit limitations with respect to the issues which may be linked to a question of confidence”.