Congress v Saavedra

11 December 2016

As widely expected, the interpelación (questioning) of Education Minister Jaime Saavedra led to the Fujimoristas in Congress deciding to push ahead with a motion of censure. Not content with the answers he presented on 7 December to accusations about supposed irregularities in computer procurement and delays in preparing for the Pan-American Games, the Fuerza Popular (FP) majority block says it intends to push ahead with the vote against Saavedra, probably in the next few days.

Members of APRA who had supported the interpelación have so far indicated they will not vote for censure. Verónika Mendoza, leader of the left-leaning Frente Amplio which abstained in the vote on the interpelación, has declared that her party will support Saavedra. Saavedra, who was education minister under Humala, is widely seen as one of the most effective members of the cabinet.

An online chat between congressional members of FP and their leader, Keiko Fujimori, has emerged, proving that the order to censure Saavedra had come from her and that the decision to push ahead with censure had been decided upon well in advance of the hearings. Congresswoman Cecilia Chacón was heard to remark “now they know with whom they are dealing.”

There have been calls for President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski to challenge Congress on an issue which has become more a trial of strength between the executive and the majority block in the legislature than anything to do with education. Some members of Congress, like Juan Sheput from Kuczynski’s party (Peruanos por el Kambio, PPK) think that the education reform should continue but that Saavedra should simply be replaced. Others consider that allowing the Fujimoristas to take ministers out so easily could lead to a slippery slope that might even end with the impeachment of the president himself.

Saavedra remains a popular figure and a march in his support has been called in Lima for 12 December. Crucially, what Kuczynski decides to do if, or more likely when the censure motion happens, will determine the way in which the relationship between the executive and the legislature develops over the coming months and years.

Should Kuczynski decide to challenge the Fujimoristas into raising the matter as a vote of confidence in the cabinet as a whole, he could precipitate such a clash. Were such a move upheld, it would mean a new cabinet would need to be appointed. The constitution says that a new cabinet must undergo a vote of confidence in Congress. A second motion of censure, if passed, would enable the president to close Congress and convene fresh elections. It may be the case that the Fujimoristas will think twice (or more) before provoking a scenario in which they could lose seats.

The fact that the president has the last word in response to challenges from the legislature was one of the innovations written into the 1993 constitution by no other than former president Alberto Fujimori himself, keen to uphold presidential power.

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