Political reforms approved: how far from the executive blueprint?

29 July 2019

 As the 25 July deadline approached, Congress had yet to approve two of the six political reforms which President Martín Vizcarra had outlined at the beginning of June as conditions for not exercising his constitutional right to dissolve parliament. These were two of the thornier issues on the list: the system by which parliamentary immunity could be lifted and the gender balance on party lists of candidates in legislative elections.

The text that was finally approved on parliamentary immunities was a far cry from that proposed by the executive, maintaining the right of Congress to decide when to lift such immunity. The reform proposed by the executive suggested putting this power in the hands of the Supreme Court. Several members of Congress (mainly from the Fujimorista benches) face judicial proceedings but have been protected by the Fujimorista majority in Congress. Those in favour of the approved text came mainly from the Fujimorista party, Fuerza Popular, and its allies on the Aprista benches.

The text on the gender balance was more in line with what the executive had wanted. This involves parties establishing equality between men and women in their selection of candidates for Congress. However, the text as approved will not apply immediately. In the 2021 elections, 40% of a party list must be female candidates, 45% in 2026, and 50% only in 2031. Again, there had been strong opposition from (mainly male) members of the Fujimorista ranks who oppose notions of gender equality.

On 23 July, three other reforms were approved by the plenary in Congress, but not without significant changes to the formulae presented by Vizcarra and the executive. The texts presented for approval had been previously prepared by the constitution commission, chaired by the Fujimorista stalwart Rosa Batra.

The first concerns the introduction of a system of primaries in the selection of candidates. The executive had proposed that all parties presenting candidates should hold open primaries, i.e. ones in which all voters could take part. What eventually was approved was that, for the purposes of the 2021 elections, those parties which already have official recognition can select candidates through primaries restricted to party members; new parties would need to select them through open primaries. As of 2026, all primaries would be open. This distinction between new parties and those already registered was described by Martín Tanaka, member of the group that had suggested the reforms in the first place, as “problematic”.

The second reform to be ratified concerned barring people with criminal antecedents from occupying public office. This represents a constitutional change, and although it was passed by the necessary two-thirds margin, the vote will have to be ratified in the next legislature. According to the version approved, those people found guilty in the first instance and given at least four-year sentences will be barred from standing to elective office.

The third related to party funding. The executive sought to bar anonymous contributions (over a specific limit) and to enable the electoral authorities to access the bank accounts of political parties. While the approved text lowered the barrier for anonymous donations, it did not give the electoral authorities the power to access bank accounts.

A fourth area of reform, voted on earlier, related to the rules guiding the registration (and its cancellation) of political parties. The text approved in Congress introduced more barriers than anticipated in the executive version for the registration of new parties such as the number of local committees in each province.

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