Choosing names for Congress

11 January 2016

With just three months to go to election day on 10 April, Peru’s myriad parties and alliances are busy producing the lists of candidates they will put forward for Congress. Their number will be larger than ever but, hopefully, their backgrounds will come under rather more scrutiny than has previously been the case. Candidates for the presidency had to register by midnight on Monday, 11 January.

As well as seeking to represent the voters in the legislature for the next five years, draft laws and exercise oversight over the activities of those in government, being a member of Congress has other advantages. As well as receiving an attractive salary and other perks, members also enjoy immunity from criminal investigation and access to public money in the distribution of government contracts.

Peru’s Congress has gained an unsavoury reputation for corruption in recent years. Scandals involving congressmen of all colours are the everyday fare of the country’s scandal-hungry media. Polls attest to the lack of faith among voters in parliamentary institutions and those within them. As the annual Latinobarómetro shows, few Latin American electorates have a more jaundiced view of their legislators than that of Peru.

The number of candidates competing for the 120 congressional seats in this year’s elections will probably be unprecedented. This will reflect the number of groupings putting forward slates both for the presidency and Congress. It makes it very difficult to assess who they are and what their background or beliefs (if any) are. Candidates are notoriously economical with the truth when it comes to submitting their CVs to the electoral authorities.

Of course, some of those elected will be well-known names, re-elected from the current legislature. But the vast majority will be unknown entities, jumping on the party bandwagon for whatever motive. Some presidential candidates, such as Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, have been taken to task for failing to maintain a sufficiently watchful eye on those promised places on their slates. Others have been rather more open in their approach. The Frente Amplio’s Veronika Mendoza, for instance, was to organise an open primary for her parliamentary list on 10 January.

The composition of Congress matters for the future of democracy. Peru’s poor reputation in this respect does its democracy a grave disservice. Let’s hope that between now and 10 April, there will be many eagle eyes looking critically at who’s who on the lists.

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    The Peru Support Group exists to promote social inclusion, sustainable development and the observance of human rights in Peru. To that end the PSG highlights shortcomings in observance of established norms, whether international or local in nature, in its research, advocacy and publications. In so doing, it underscores the relationships that exist within the political system, how institutions work, and the effectiveness of policies that aim to reduce poverty and inequality within the context of sustainable development.

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