“In Peru it is easier to vacate the president than to condemn a murderer.” Phrases that some Peruvians pronounce these days and illustrate the political moment that the country is experiencing.
On Monday, President Martín Vizcarra was removed by Congress in a “vacancy motion“for a” moral incapacity “to exercise the position.
The now ex-president had been accused of receiving bribes from companies to grant public works during his tenure in the Moquegua governorate.
Vizcarra denies the charges, among others because they are based on testimonies whose authenticity has not been validated by justice.
The fact is that his fall, however, is something that “has already been accomplished”, as is also heard in the streets of Peru, where protests are already being reported. A new president, Manuel Arturo Merino, took office on Tuesday.
Vizcarra’s vacancy comes two months after another attempt by Congress, also led by Congressman Merino, to remove him. And remember that Vizcarra himself came to power in 2018 after the resignation of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski amid two similar vacancy motions.
It is inevitable that the dismissal will also evoke what happened with the last six presidents of the country; not all dismissed, but investigated or convicted of corruption.
Peru, meanwhile, has been the country most affected economically and healthily by the pandemic in the region and is preparing to elect a new president and Congress in April 2021.
So things, the apparent The ease with which Congress manages to corner presidents has become a kind of exoticism of Peru, which like other Latin American countries suffers from corruption but with extraordinary consequences.
What, then, is the matter? These are four keys to understanding it.
1. A semi-parliamentary system in practice
As in all of Latin America, Peru has a presidential political system: the president, elected by universal suffrage, is the head of state and has extraordinary powers that favor the stability and efficiency of the government.
But the Peruvian system has a characteristic that it only shares with Venezuela and Ecuador in the region: that its Congress, of just 130 legislators, only has one legislative chamber.
Also, unlike the rest of the region Peruvians have been introducing institutions or mechanisms of European parliamentarism into their system that seek to prevent presidents from tending toward authoritarianism.
With this, the motions of censure in Peru are not called for attention, but resignation mandates and the ministerial cabinets and executive budgets depend on the scrutiny and approval of Congress.
“An institutional look makes us see that in Peru the president does not have the hyper-presidential profile that had been raised, but that your strength depends on avoiding a consolidated opposition in Congress“, explains Milagros Campos, professor of constitutional law at the Catholic University.
“In 200 years Peru has not been able to resolve the scenario of a government without a majority in Congress; and whenever it has occurred it has resulted in coups d’état or vacancies”, as happened in the case of Vizcarra.
2. The vacancy figure
To this is added the famous figure of “the vacancy due to moral incapacity of the president”, which exists in other countries, but operates in Peru and has different scopes.
The vacancy comes from the Constitution of 1839 and was ratified in the following 10, including the last, of 1993.
Unlike a political trial, the vacancy, in theory, is not intended to judge or sanction the president, but to verify that his capacities are optimal to exercise his position.
That is why the process, although it has a right of defense of 60 minutes, is so fluid and does not require the intervention of committees or long debates.
But, according to Campos, “being such a broad definition the mechanism can be used for anything“from the president’s illness or death to his” moral “authority to hold the highest office in the nation.
20% of congressmen can request a vacancy motion, 40% can admit it and 66% (87 of 130 legislators) can approve it.
105 congressmen voted for Vizcarra’s vacancy.
3. The fragmentntation of Peruvian politics
Therefore, it is increasingly clear that in Peru a president cannot govern without a certain number of congressmen in his favor.
And Vizcarra, on paper at least, didn’t have one.
In 2019, The president dissolved Congress after a reform to the election of magistrates was rejected three times of the Constitutional Court and called for extraordinary elections.
Vizcarra, who had the theoretical support of two parties, did not present his own candidates. Twenty-one collectives presented themselves and 10 of them won seats. “The power disintegrated y fragmentor more than ever“Campos says.
And that, according to analysts, ended up taking a toll on the then president.
As in other countries, Peru is experiencing a crisis of its parties that, in a system that in practice operates as a semi-parliamentary system, translates into institutional crises like those of recent years.
“With so many coups d’état, the parties never consolidated and were always volatile (…). And to that add that there is no reelection of congressmen, with which the volatility is tremendous,” adds Campos.
Without consolidated parties, then, the president has less capacity to guarantee the stability of his mandate.
4. Background corruption
All of the above occurs in a country where corruption is, as in the rest of Latin America, structural. And that makes it easier for corruption cases to be opened against any official.
Not in vain the congressmen who promoted Vizcarra’s vacancy are also being investigated.
After Brazil, Peru is the country that has advanced the most in the corruption investigations of the Odebrecht case, the construction company that had a network of bribes throughout the region.
However, almost four years after the investigations were opened, the 46 open cases have yielded no results: The four splattered former presidents, for example, are charged, but not convicted.
According to Campos, the fight against corruption has found norms that “hinder public investments and benefit the corrupt who manage to manage the bureaucracy like a fish in water.”
In 2018, Vizcarra promoted a referendum to fight corruption that included a ban on the reelection of congressmen, a reform that was approved by 85% of voters.
Two years later, according to Campos, the good intentions had a tail blow: “The non-reelection generates an unwanted effect, because it breaks any collaborative and accountable spirit. The congressmen are not attentive to what the population thinks, because they are not they are going to pay immediately. “
The latest polls gave Vizcarra between 60% and 80% approval. But that, in a Congress that was not immediately subject to the scrutiny of the electorate, did not help him at all: he was emptied anyway.
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