In some countries of the region, the system of governance depends as much on parliamentary activity as in Peru. Both because of its constitutional project and because of the strong political fragmentation that the country is experiencing, the Congress of the Republic has been the epicenter of the various political crises that the nation has gone through during its recent history.
In a region where the systems of government are distinctly presidential, the important role that the parliament has developed in Peru is remarkable. Its parliamentary powers, in addition to controlling the management of executive power, have in practice followed an open pattern of obstruction, in particular before and after the resignation of former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in March 2018.
Since then, the unicameral parliament has been the main obstacle to the presidential administration of the last three interim presidents. In September 2019, the first of them, Martin Vizcarra, announced the dissolution of parliament by presidential decree, due to restrictions on the formation of the ministerial cabinet. In this way, he called for an extraordinary legislative election to form an interim parliamentary representation until July 2021, when the newly elected legislature is expected to begin.
Since then, the mutual and systemic mistrust between the executive, legislative and judicial powers has been the main characteristic of the Peruvian political system.
THE PERMANENT PARLIAMENTARY MINORITY
The recent elections have reduced the two biggest benches of the opposition – Fuerza Popular and Nuevo Perú – and further fragmented the distribution of seats compared to the previous legislature, after there had been the biggest institutional confrontation in years. decades. Two moves, three interim presidents, several rounds of demonstrations and even an episode of police repression in the streets. These latest events occurred during the pandemic with the worsening of poor health management that made Peru the nation with the highest number of Covid-19 deaths per 100,000 population in Latin America.
Faced with this delicate situation, the general elections of 2021 represent an additional difficulty. Whoever is elected, the new president will face a model of parliamentary ungovernability similar to that of recent years. Perú Libre, the party supporting Pedro Castillo’s candidacy, won 37 seats, according to the results. Between them, they do not reach half of the 130 seats, the rest being distributed among eight minority parties.
This new context foresees continued fragmentation between the benches and a presidential administration with little support from the legislative power. Added to this is the fragmentation of the electorate, the brutal collapse of economic indices and the undeniable dissatisfaction of citizens with the political class as a whole.
According to political scientist Martín Tanaka, “in recent years we have become accustomed to seeing this maximalist policy, treated with great irresponsibility, which has created this permanent confrontation between parliament and the executive”. For the professor of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru, “it is this confrontation which led to the resignation of Kuczynski, the closure of the Congress, the vacancy of Vizcarra, and this resulted in permanent conflicts”. This includes the brief and unstable interim government of Manuel Merino – with just five days in power – and current President Francisco Sagasti.
CHANGES IN ELECTORAL LEGISLATION
Recent changes to electoral rules have forced all parties to participate in the elections in order to avoid the risk of demise. According to this rule, the registration of parties that do not participate consecutively in two general elections starting in 2016 would be canceled. The result was reflected in the fragmentation of the parliamentary arc resulting from the recent elections.
Most parliamentary groups now have little latitude to legislate and a notorious party indiscipline. This makes it difficult to find consensus and creates fragile majorities in plenary, which ends up compromising the governability of the political system itself.
In a democratic system, parliamentary autonomy is always necessary because it is the main balancing mechanism for government management. In fact, any political system must preserve its governability, even when the parliament has a majority against the president. However, the incorporation of electoral measures which increase the fragmentation of parliamentary representation may, in practice, lead to dissolving the political significance of this important democratic constraint.
This parliamentary weakness can ultimately turn the constitutional powers of democratic control available to Congress into an instrument of revenge and political instability. And, in this way, it ends up undermining the government’s response capacity and stimulating social discontent, which is extremely dangerous in a context of a pandemic like the one plaguing the region. Unfortunately, this is the current situation in Peru, that Castillo or Fujimori wins in the second round.
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