Constitutional train crash looming?

25 May 2019

The last ten days have seen a serious deterioration in relations between the executive power and the majority group within the legislature, led by the so-called fujiapristas an alliance of fujimoristas and supporters of APRA. There is speculation that this could lead to a constitutional crisis by which either the Congress passes a motion to vacate the presidency (as it sought to do in December 2017) or the executive calls for motion of confidence which, if not passed, would lead to the dissolution of the present Congress and the election of another.

On 20 May, President Martín Vizcarra went in person to the Congress building, accompanied by Prime Minister Salvador del Solar and Justice Minister Vicente Zevallos, to explain why the two latter would not be appearing before the congressional constitution committee to justify the government’s plans for political reform.

As readers of the PSG Newsletter will recall, the committee in question, presided over by fujimorista Rosa Bartra, voted down one of twelve proposals advocated by the Tuesta commission. This referred to the way in which the Congress itself decides on the withdrawal of parliamentary immunity from prosecution for its members. Tuesta wanted to put this in the hands of the Supreme Court.

Until recently, it appeared that Vizcarra had the upper hand in relations with the parliamentary opposition, bolstered by splits within the fujimorista ranks and the effects of Keiko Fujimori’s imprisonment. But the fujiaprista high command, of which Bartra is a conspicuous member, appears to have decided to fight back, using its parliamentary majority to block the government’s proposed political reforms.

Tuesta’s package seeks to introduce changes that would improve the institutional functioning of the political system and avert situations which, as in the 2016 elections, led to a fujimorista landslide in the Congress. The tactics of the fujiapristas would seem to be to delay the implementation of changes to the political system until after the 2021 general elections.

Vizcarra’s delivery of a letter in person to Congress was designed to show that he does not intend to be browbeaten in this way. It was his decision to appeal to public opinion over the head of Congress by ordering last December’s referendum that brought him a sudden surge in public support. His relative passivity in recent weeks has coincided with a notable decline in his popularity ratings.

Speaking on the steps of Congress, Vizcarra said “On 10 April we presented twelve bills that included a comprehensive political reform. For this reason, we came to Congress and presented the bills. More than a month has passed and practically nothing has moved forward”. Notwithstanding a meeting with representatives of all the parties in Congress in which all agreed to collaborate, “the day afterwards, the constitution committee met, revised the first bill and archived it” he said. He went on to say “we urge members of the constitution committee, and Congress as a whole, to deal with us responsibly, without tricks, as has been the case with some bills, thinking of what is best for Peru”. 

Predictably, his remarks did not go down well in Congress itself. The president of Congress, Daniel Salaverry, remarked that if it is Vizcarra’s intention to provoke a vote of confidence, he should be upfront about it. Fujimorista deputy Alejandra Aramayo tabled a proposed bill to change the rules regarding votes of no-confidence, while Bartra suggested that there should be reforms to the immunity enjoyed by presidents.

As the week finished, it seemed likely that the executive would send a new bill on parliamentary immunities to Congress, arguing that the fact that the previous one was never discussed in the plenum made it unnecessary to wait for a new legislature. If this happens and if Bartra and her friends reject the new proposal, the gloves may come off.

Speaking in Cuzco on 23 May, Vizcarra said, referring to a motion of confidence, “though this is an instrument established in [the country’s] norms and can be used when necessary, we hope that the Congress will take the necessary actions for it to continue and that recourse to a question of confidence will not be needed”. 

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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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