Parliament or president: who rules?

20 August 2016

The strong vote of confidence by Congress on 19 August (121 in favour, two against, one abstention http://elcomercio.pe/politica/gobierno/fernando-zavala-recibio-voto-confianza-congreso-noticia-1925489?flsm=1) in the cabinet of Fernando Zavala, Peru’s new prime minister, is but the first of probably many hurdles that the Kuczynski administration will need to clear in what promises to be a troubled relationship between the legislature and the executive over the next five years.

Peru’s constitution is presidentialist in that normally the legislature plays a secondary role, especially when it comes to legislation. Most laws and other legal instruments originate in the executive branch in one form or another. The main role of the legislature has been to approve laws and hold the executive to account.

The large opposition majority – with the Fujimorista Fuerza Popular (FP) alone occupying 73 of the 130 seats in Congress and the ruling Peruanos por el Kambio (PPK) only 18 – means that this subservience can no longer be taken for granted. Spokesmen for FP have already argued that the results of the legislative elections, held in April, make their party the expression of the popular will, notwithstanding Pedro Pablo Kuczynski’s majority in the second round of presidential elections in June. Many in FP believe that, notwithstanding his narrow victory, they were robbed of what should have been their victory in the second round.

Although the cabinet has cleared the first hurdle, the next would seem to be the executive’s plan (envisaged by the constitution) to ask Congress to delegate special legislative prerogatives for a limited period of time in order to expedite its legislative agenda. There is no guarantee that this sort of blank cheque will be given, however, even though there is a broad measure of agreement between FP and the Kuczynski administration on key matters of economic policy.

The size of the opposition majority in Congress means that Peru is entering uncharted waters, at least compared with the recent past. The last time that a government lacked a working majority in Congress was in July 1990 when Alberto Fujimori became president and his Cambio 90 party had only a minority presence in the then bicameral legislature. This led to the autogolpe in April 1992, to the arbitrary closure of Congress, and the rescinding of the 1979 constitution.

Under the 1993 constitution (Art 132), the Congress has the right to pass a resolution of no confidence in the cabinet on two occasions, but thereafter the executive has the right (Art 134) to close down Congress and call fresh parliamentary elections.

This threat of counter-attack by the executive is potentially a key weapon in the otherwise awkward balance between the two powers of the state. It is a factor that the Fujimoristas will have to take into account before embarking on a scorched earth policy in the Congress that effectively makes the country ungovernable. The art of successful parliamentary brinksmanship is to maximise pressure on the executive, but without bringing matters to a head in this way.

Notwithstanding their support for the new cabinet, it seems probable that the Fujimoristas have little interest in making life easy for Kuczynski over the next five years.

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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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