In a landmark case, Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal (TC) ruled, on 14 January, that the dissolution of Congress (enacted on 30 September) was fully in accordance with the constitution. The ruling averts a situation in which President Martín Vizcarra would have found himself in an extremely awkward position, vindicating the right-wing opposition Fuerza Popular party.
Shortly after the dissolution, the former president of the Congress, fujimorista Pedro Olaechea, had appealed to the Tribunal alleging that Vizcarra had acted unconstitutionally.
The ruling, approved by four votes to three, provides a green light for the upcoming legislative elections on 26 January and (if the results are conducive) to the various proposals for political reform that the previous Congress, with its fujimorista majority, had systematically blocked. If the case had been upheld, it would have involved the return of the previous Congress and suspension of the elections. Campaigning is now in full swing.
The vote was split along fairly predictable lines. Those voting that 30 September did not violate constitutional precepts included Carlos Ramos, Marianela Ledesma (the new president of the TC), Manuel Miranda and Eloy Espinosa-Saldaña. Ramos had previously produced a position paper (ponencia) arguing the case. Those voting against were José Luis Sardón, Ernesto Blume (the previous president of the TC) and Augusto Ferrero.
The ruling thus confirms that the then prime minister, Salvador Del Solar, was in his rights to demand a vote of confidence on a bill that sought to reform the system by which members of the TC are elected, and that the majority in the Congress ignored and therefore denied that vote of confidence. Where Congress denies a vote of confidence on two occasions (it did so previously in 2017), Art 134 enables the president to dissolve Congress.
In addition, the ruling overcame the possible objection that the resolution dissolving Congress had been signed only by Vizcarra and Del Solar. It ruled that it was not necessary for every member of the cabinet to sign it.
The ruling has had a mixed response among lawyers consulted by El Comercio. According to Samuel Abad, the ruling should not be regarded as a “blank cheque” for future administrations and that the circumstances were “exceptional”.
Unusually, the proceedings of the TC in this case were televised. Espinosa-Saldaña argues that this aids transparency and that more cases coming before the Tribunal should be made public. “People have a better understanding when they can be involved in what is being resolved, what the opinions are that are being expressed, and why a certain conclusion is reached” he is quoted as saying.