Complications arise over bringing forward elections

3 August 2019

On 31 July, the executive formally delivered a bill (PL 4637) to the new president of Congress, Pedro Olaechea, presenting its proposal, announced in President Martin Vizcarra’s speech to Congress on 28 July, to call a referendum to bring forward elections to next year. In the accompanying letter, signed by both Vizcarra and Prime Minister Salvador del Solar, the proposal for congressional consideration was described as being of “maximum importance”.

Since its surprise announcement on 28 July, Vizcarra’s proposal has been praised in certain sectors of the Congress, especially on the left, but roundly condemned by many of those sitting on the Fuerza Popular and APRA benches. Under the proposals all incumbents, whether the president or members of Congress, would be barred from re-election.

Passage of the necessary congressional approval to hold a referendum on constitutional change (bringing forward the date of elections) may well run into stiff resistance among sitting members of FP which, despite defections, remains the largest bloc in Congress. The executive has claimed that it may tie the decision to another vote of confidence which, if lost, would trigger fresh legislative elections.

The timetable for general elections will be extremely tight, forcing changes to that anticipated in the electoral law. This stipulates that when there is less than a year to go before elections, no changes to the law are allowed. This will need to be glossed over if some of the recently passed political reforms are to apply. Furthermore, the law as it stands says that the president must convene elections no less than 270 days prior to the date on which they are held. If a referendum is to be held (possibly in November) then that rule will need to be glossed over too. The newly passed law mandating party primaries will also have to be side-lined.

Congress will not consider the government’s proposals until later this month, at the earliest. Currently, it is unclear how the all-important constitutional committee will be made up and whether it will continue to be chaired by the Fujimorista par excellence, Rosa Bartra. The formation of membership and presidencies of the various parliamentary committees will be decided upon in the forthcoming week.

It seems that the earliest possible date for the referendum would be November, with the legislative and presidential (first round) elections taking place on 19 April. A second round could take place in June with a new Congress and president assuming office on 28 July, 2020. But there is much room here for congressional delay and procrastination which could render this timetable impossible.

Of course, the timetable may change due to other unforeseen problems arising. In the opinion of Martín Tanaka, member of the commission which designed the various proposals for political reform, the whole scheme for bringing forward elections is “extremely complicated” and depends on the willingness of Congress “to dance to the music played by the executive”. He points out that several of the reforms put to the Congress last month will not apply, including the need to hold primaries and those requiring constitutional amendments. 

A further problem that has arisen is that the vice-president, Mercedes Aráoz, has made clear that she opposes the president’s decision. She appears not to have been consulted before Vizcarra’s Independence Day speech. The executive maintains that only cabinet members were consulted, and they were committed to secrecy.

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