What Happened in Peru: a Coup d’Etat or a Rebel Congress?

Vizcarra decided to announce the dissolution of Congress and present a new Council of Ministers, and to continue calling for legislative elections

There are still questions that not even constitutional lawyers have been able to clarify because it appears that both the executive and the legislative branches prioritized their own interests (PanAm Post photo montage).

Spanish – Peru reached the climax of an unprecedented political juncture with its dissolved Congress and an unparalleled legal abyss that tests the objectivity of this country’s constitutional lawyers..

The Parliament which has a Fujimorist majority has strong arguments in its favor to allege that Peru experienced a coup d’etat perpetrated by president Martin Vizcarra. On the other hand, the executive also has reasons to announce the dissolution of Congress.

It all began when the Peruvian Congress announced that it would choose the judges of the Constitutional Court as established in the Magna Carta. In November 2018, the Parliament established the commission in charge of this selection.

The organic law of the collegiate establishes two formulas for appointing candidates to the judiciary: one by competition and the other by invitation. Congress decided to do it the second way.

The election of the magistrates was on the agenda for this Monday. However, President Vizcarra announced last Friday that he would present a question of confidence for the third time. This time for a bill that proposed “changing the rules of the game” concerning the election of judges to the Constitutional Court. This is because, presumably, the Parliament would choose the magistrates at its convenience to “benefit” Fujimorism.

The President had already warned that if he presented the question of confidence and Congress ignored it and decided to proceed with the vote of the magistrates, he would exercise his constitutional powers and dissolve Parliament. That is when the crisis begins.

The Magna Carta of Peru establishes the question of trust as a constitutional mechanism with which the executive branch can consult the Congress regarding any issue it deems appropriate. The only one who can present the question is the President of the Council of Ministers. If two cabinets of the same government censure or reject the vote of confidence, the President may dissolve the Congress.

The issue is that this new question of trust, introduced by Vizcarra at the last moment, asked the Congress to pause the election of the magistrates. However, the majority of parliamentarians decided to “postpone” the discussion of this mechanism and initiate the vote to choose the magistrates.

As the President warned on Friday, he interpreted the law and argued for the “factual denial,” which means that in his view, the Congress disapproved of the question of trust because, in practice, it omitted the issue and chose to continue with the voting of the candidates for the Constitutional Court.

The problem is that the Constitution of this country does not speak of a “factual denial” nor does it establish that Congress should discuss the question of trust before the vote set on the agenda. Therefore, the Parliament, with a Fujimorist majority, maintains that it acted lawfully.

Consequently, Vizcarra decided to announce the dissolution of Congress and present a new Council of Ministers, and to continue calling for legislative elections scheduled for the month of January.

Meanwhile, when the President was offering his message to the nation, the Congress approved the question of trust requested by the prime minister Salvador del Solar. Thus, “in practice,” they say, they never denied the constitutional mechanism.

At that time, Congress (already dissolved) remained in the chamber and decided to file a motion to vacate the office of the President for “moral incompetence.” According to this argument, it approved a temporary dismissal of 12 months and swore in the second vice-president, Mercedes Araoz, who resigned less than 24 hours later. Araoz’ argument for leaving office is that the constitutional order in Peru has been broken and he hopes that his decision will lead to a call for general elections.

It remains to be seen if the Constitutional Court of this country takes it upon itself to clarify the legal panorama confronting in the country since this is the body in charge of interpreting and explaining any doubt or legal gap in the Constitution.

Why does Congress allege a coup d ‘état?

PanAm Post interviewed Jorge Del Castillo, a Peruvian lawyer, politician, and congressman for the Aprista party, who complained about a “coup d’etat” perpetrated by Vizcarra and accused him of wanting to interfere in the independent and “constitutional” decisions of the Congress of the Republic.

“The president interpreted that he was not given the question of trust; that is why the constitutional lawyers have said that we are facing a coup d’etat and that is the position we have expressed.”

Del Castillo pointed out that they preferred to continue with the voting of the magistrates because it is a unique and exclusive competence of the Congress in which the executive power does not have to interfere.

“There were only two votes of the magistrates. The selection process was already several months old. It was not invented yesterday. There was only one approval out of six that had been planned, and then we proceeded to approve the question of trust. As a result of the election of a magistrate, Vizcarra is carrying out a coup d’etat,” he said.

“We are facing a very complicated situation, and of course, Mr. Vizcarra is supported by the entire communist section. It is the extremist parties that are supporting this attitude. Maybe we are living something very similar to what Chavismo has done in Venezuela,” he declared.

Some organizations have spoken out in favor of Congress, such as the Lima Bar Association, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the National Confederation of Private Business Institutions (Confiep).

“Vizcarra has won the round”

Political scientist and international affairs expert Luis Nunes told the PanAm Post that he believes president Vizcarra is right. He also pointed out that the Peruvian Armed Forces and Police have already expressed their support for him:

We are in a constitutional limbo because the events took place simultaneously yesterday. Since the events took place at the same time, the situation is confusing. In any case, we cannot underestimate the support of the Police and the Armed Forces of Peru for President Vizcarra. I believe that this will end up in the hands of the Constitutional Court, which would have to settle yesterday’s events.

“I have the impression that Congress is closed, only the Permanent Commission is going to function as established by the Constitution, and everything indicates that the country is going to move towards a congressional election on January 26 to end the legislative period,” Nunes said. He reiterated, “It is confusing to determine who is right. But I have the impression that Vizcarra is right, and that the President has won this round. He has already declared that he would send the question of trust and had warned what would happen.”

“The Constitution has several difficult nuances that allow for various interpretations. It seems that the President is in line with the law. I think mistakes have been made here. Congress lost the connection with the population a long time ago,” he added.

So far there have been marches in the streets favoring the decision to dissolve Congress, and state agencies have expressed their support for President Vizcarra.

There are still questions that not even constitutional lawyers have been able to clarify since it seems that both the executive and the Legislative Branches prioritized their own interests. They chose to be part of this “institutional clash” rather than engage in dialogue and seek a solution that would not harm the country.

Can a dissolved Congress temporarily vacate the President and swear in his replacement provisionally? Should Vizcarra dissolve Congress even though he was never explicitly denied the question of trust?

Why did the majority in Congress decide to ignore the question of trust and thereby avoid the current situation?

Why did the Peruvian President wait until the last minute to formally propose a change in the way judges are elected?

There are many lingering questions that only time will answer.

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