Political reforms presented to Congress

15 April 2019

On 10 April, the executive branch submitted a series of reforms to Congress for its approval. The reforms corresponded roughly to the recommendations made by the commission led by Fernando Tuesta, submitted to the government three weeks earlier. The main change was dropping the suggestion of a return to a bicameral system of government. This was voted down by a large margin in the referendum on political reform last December.

The key question now is whether the Congress will approve the recommendations or change their content out of all recognition. Many of the changes are designed expressly to root out the sort of corruption and political bias that led to the legislative landslide in favour of Fuerza Popular (FP) in the 2016 elections.

Although FP has fractured in recent months, there is likely to be opposition to the root-and-branch changes proposed by Tuesta and his colleagues. This could easily produce the constitutional gridlock between the government and the FP congressional majority that has characterised much of the period since 2016. In a televised speech to the nation on 11 April, in which President Martin Vizcarra touched on the question of political reform (and many other issues), he signally failed to give Congress a deadline to pass the legislation.

If approved, the changes would tighten up the rules on campaign finance and the sworn declarations of candidates as to past judicial infractions and specific financial interests. The selection of candidates would be conducted in open primaries, supervised by the electoral authorities. Issues of parliamentary immunity from prosecution would be left to the Supreme Court to decide upon, not the Congress itself.

Another proposed change is to hold legislative elections coincident with the second round of presidential elections, not the first as at present. The proposals also involve scrapping the preferential vote system whereby those seeking a seat in Congress compete with one another. They would also bring gender parity to bear on congressional lists. Finally, and crucially, they would abolish the system whereby parties need to amass millions of signatures to register themselves officially, but they would need to prove a critical mass of party militants.

With respect to regional and local elections, the proposals would raise terms from four years to five.

Congress will need to move swiftly if all these reforms are to be in place in time for the 2021 elections. Its record on approving judicial reforms presented to it in recent months suggests no such predilection for speed.

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