Vicente Zeballos, president of the Council of Ministers, has confirmed that he will go before Congress this coming week (on 28 May) amid renewed tensions between the executive and legislature. He may face a vote of confidence (or not) in the current ministerial team.

It will be a rather odd session, given the rules of social distancing and the virtual participation of all members of Congress other than the mesa directiva. The cabinet as a whole is expected to be there.

The president of Congress, Manuel Merino, had previously declared that the cabinet needed to undergo a vote of confidence in conformity with Art 130 of the constitution, a point which Zeballos rejected saying that he would not accept “conditions” from Congress. He said “I am not going to enter a discussion about Article 130; there will be an opportunity for that on another occasion, not now”.

On 19 May, Merino described the government’s strategy to confront Covid-19 as “a failure”. Congress has adopted a strident posture in recent weeks, in particular clashing with the executive over its refusal to sign a law that enabled savers to withdraw up to 25% of their private pension funds. In the end, the Congress used its powers to promulgate the legislation following the executive’s refusal to do so. Congress has also been dragging its heels in approving the various political and electoral reforms considered necessary by the executive for next year’s elections.

It remains unclear how the session will turn out. A number of parties have said they do not plan to support a motion of confidence.

Zeballos has stated that he intends to use his presence in Congress to request parliamentary acceptance of a delegation of legislative authority to the executive to reduce overcrowding and improve sanitary conditions in the country’s prison system. Previously, the Congress had refused executive proposals to free those imprisoned on lesser sentences who do not represent a threat to society.

These and other points of conflict have emerged since the new Congress became operative earlier in the year. Whether or not they will lead to a full-blown constitutional crisis, like that which led to the closure of Congress last September, remains to be seen.

President Martín Vizcarra retains very high (80%) approval ratings for his handling of the Covid-19 crisis. However, congressional leaders, some of whom aim to be presidential candidates next year, sense that the public mood will change as the death toll moves ever further upwards and with the virus appearing to overwhelm the ability of the health system to constrain it. Elections will be held in just over ten months’ time, in April 2021.