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President Vizcarra dissolves peruvian Congress and opposition cries foul

Demetrius Freeman / Bloomberg

Martin Vizcarra

- Opposition lawmakers held snap vote to suspend the president
- President Vizcarra calls parliamentary election for January 26

By John Quigley / Bloomberg

Petroleumworld 10 01 2019

President Martin Vizcarra dissolved Peru's opposition-controlled Congress and called a parliamentary election after months of confrontation over anti-corruption measures boiled over.

Vizcarra said Monday he used his constitutional right to dissolve Peru's unicameral Congress after his cabinet lost a vote of confidence over the government's bid to halt the election of new justices to the country's top court. Congress' decision to elect the first of six new justices Monday was a defacto rejection of the cabinet's confidence motion, he said in a televised address.

The measure is a “democratic solution” to Peru's political gridlock, he said.

Vizcarra's move to cut the parliamentary term short was repudiated by opposition lawmakers. They held a snap vote to suspend the president and proceeded to swear in vice president Mercedes Araoz as leader. “This is a coup and we have to tell the world,” opposition lawmaker Jorge del Castillo said in Congress, according to video broadcast by state television.

Any actions by Congress following its dissolution are invalid, said Carlos Rivera, director of the Legal Defense Institute, a Lima-based rights group.

Still, the move by the opposition pushes the Andean country closer to a constitutional crisis. Vizcarra's high-stakes decision also risks a backlash in a region with past experiences of legislative bodies shut down by authoritarian regimes.

Peru has been gripped by political turmoil since the general election of 2016 when Pedro Pablo Kuczynski scraped through a runoff vote for the presidency while his opponent, Keiko Fujimori, won a majority in Congress. A former vice president, Vizcarra took office roughly 18 months ago when Kuczynski resigned on the eve of an impeachment vote.

Opposition parties have dragged their feet on government reforms designed to stamp out corruption. Championing the corruption fight buoyed Vizcarra's popularity at a time when many political parties and their leaders are implicated in a continent-wide bribery scandal.

“Congress really deserved this dissolution,” said Rivera. “It's an irreversible decision politically. It's an act that should mark the close of one era in our country and open a new, less contaminated one.”

ANDEAN INSIGHT: Prolonged Growth Weakness Raises Regional Risks

Vizcarra called for a new congress to be elected on Jan. 26, with a standing committee of lawmakers fulfilling legislative duties until the vote. Crucially, the heads of Peru's armed forces and the police pledged their support for Vizcarra, according to a statement from the president's office via Twitter.

In a Sept. 25 interview with Bloomberg News, Vizcarra said closing congress was an extreme scenario, and said the best option was for the opposition to back his proposal for an early general election next year, one in which he wouldn't stand as a candidate. Lawmakers voted down the bill last week.

Peru's constitution entitles the president to dissolve the unicameral Congress if lawmakers vote against two cabinets. In September 2017, then cabinet chief Fernando Zavala lost a confidence vote.

Vizcarra swore in his former justice minister, Vicente Zeballos, as cabinet chief to replace Salvador del Solar after he lost the confidence vote on Monday. Finance Minister Carlos Oliva and Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio both resigned, El Comercio reported.

Congress is among the country's least popular institutions, with an 87% disapproval rating, according to a poll by the Institute of Peruvian Studies published Sept. 29. Vizcarra's approval rating fell to 40% from 47% in August, while his disapproval rating was 52%.


Story by John Quigley from Bloomberg. / 10 01 2019


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