LIMA – An unprecedented political crisis broke out in Peru on Monday after President Martin Vizcarra dissolved congress and a group of rebel lawmakers voted to suspend him for a year, appointing Vice President Mercedes Araoz in his place.
The long, tense and turbulent day has left many fresh political wounds and a great deal of uncertainty regarding the country’s immediate future, the legality of the situation and the political consequences of the decisions that were made.
There was an evident expression of joy and a sense of relief on the streets after the president announced the dissolution of the national congress, a body whose members are despised by a majority of the population.
WHAT HAPPENED IN PERU
Vizcarra dissolved the unicameral legislative and called congressional elections scheduled for next Jan. 26 through a constitutional provision that allowed him to dissolve the house if it withdrew its confidence in the cabinet.
The president made the decision after congress defied his administration by appointing a new member to the constitutional court without even subjecting the government’s formal objection to debate.
Prime Minister Salvador del Solar requested a censure motion, but the majority voted it down.
The congress, dominated by Popular Force lawmakers and their right-wing and far-right allies, responded by accusing the president of violating the constitution by unduly dissolving the legislature.
After the nearly 50 congressmembers who accepted the dissolution left the chamber, the remaining legislators voted for a resolution to suspend Vizcarra on moral grounds and appoint Araoz as acting president.
HOW THE SITUATION CAME TO BE
This crisis is the result of an open conflict between the government and the congress since the 2016 general elections, which brought in an overwhelming majority of members from the Popular Force party led by jailed former presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori.
At that time, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was serving as president.
Fuerza Popular used its strength in the chamber to put pressure on the government in a bid to rule from the legislative branch, leading to widespread rejection by the people.
A corruption scandal involving construction company Odebrecht ended up costing Kuczynski his job, leading his vice president Vizcarra to replace him with the mission of tackling corruption plaguing the South American country.
Vizcarra promoted a series of reforms that put him at loggerheads with the congress, a body believed to be riddled with corruption, which by action or omission blocked attempts to amend rules and implement anti-graft policies.
To address the political blockade, Vizcarra in July proposed to hold early elections for both the presidency and the congress, a suggestion that was shelved without debate by the legislature’s constitutional committee, largely dominated by the Fujimorists.
Simultaneously, the opposition congressmen initiated a fast-track and opaque procedure to replace the justices on the constitutional court.
The no-confidence vote requested by Vizcarra that was debated on Monday was aimed at avoiding this maneuver.
WHAT MAY HAPPEN NOW
The uncertainty is evident as neither party recognizes the other and everything appears to indicate that the matter will end up in the hands of the constitutional court, which will ultimately have to determine whether Vizcarra’s move was legal and within his powers.
In the meantime, there appears to be no interest in removing congressmembers who remain in the dissolved legislature.
However, there is no sense of insecurity among the people or fear of a military coup. The nation’s media outlets have been reporting on events without any restrictions throughout the day and nobody has been arrested.