The Peruvian Constitutional Court (TC) on January 14 ruled in support of President Martín Vizcarra’s decision to dissolve Congress and declared unfounded the claim from the former president of the legislative body, Pedro Olaechea. After debating for more than three hours, with four votes in favor and three against, the magistrates declared Vizcarra’s decision constitutionally and legally valid, dismissing Olaechea’s complaint.
Last year, on September 30, right-wing President Vizcarra exercised his executive powers and dissolved the far-right opposition-controlled nation’s legislature. The head of the state announced the decision after he was denied a second vote of confidence by the legislators on that day. The congress had rejected a confidence vote before this one in July, when Vizcarra proposed to advance general elections in the country.
According to the Constitution of Peru, the President of the Republic can dissolve Congress and call for new elections in the country within four months if the assembly delivers two votes of no-confidence in a government.
However, Olaechea challenged Vizcarra’s decision on October 10, calling it unconstitutional and accusing the executive of invading legislative powers.
With this decision, the court settled the constitutional crisis that loomed over the country for more than 3 months and ratified Vizcarra’s call to hold new parliamentary elections on January 26.
Vizcarra celebrated the court’s decision. “The action of this government is, and has always been, in compliance with our constitution. The decision taken on 30 September 2019 is a proof of the same. Today the TC, the supreme interpreter of the constitution, has closed this chapter. Let’s keep working together,” tweeted Vizcarra.
What happened on September 30, 2019 and in the aftermath?
On September 30, 2019, the legislators met to vote on the election of six of the seven justices of the Constitutional Court. Prime Minister Salvador del Solar, on behalf of President Vizcarra, presented an urgent “vote of confidence” before the Congress and appealed to halt the election process, proposing modifications which would make it more transparent.
Nevertheless, the opposition lawmakers from the far right Popular Force party, led by Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori, who have an absolute majority in Congress, decided to continue with voting process ignoring the constitutional appeal presented by Vizcarra’s administration.
When the first new member of the TC was elected, Vizcarra announced the dissolution of congress and gave the call for new legislative elections for January 26, 2020.
However, the opposition legislators opposed the presidential order and continued to occupy the Congress for a few hours. Later that evening, the same legislators voted and approved the vote of confidence. They also began a process to suspend Vizcarra due to “moral incapacity” and announced that his then Vice-President, Mercedes Aráoz Fernández, would serve as the interim president of the country.
The next day, on October 1, Aráoz resigned from her position as Vice President and as head of state after Peruvian Army, Navy, Air Force, and Police top commanders reaffirmed their support to Vizcarra.
On October 3, Vizcarra swore in a new cabinet of ministers, exercising the Article 133 of the Constitution, which gives the head of the state the power to choose new representatives in case of the dissolution of Congress.
On October 9, the new council of ministers approved an “Urgent Decree” to guarantee the legislative elections called for by the president.
The executive’s decision received support from the Peruvian citizens, who are tired of the long-prevailing corruption in the country, which involved its three previous presidents. The social movements and trade unions, which mobilized a number of times during the last year against Vizcarra’s neoliberal and anti-workers policies, also supported his decisions. The left-wing political parties in the country also backed Vizcarra and deemed the dissolution of Congress as the solution to the long-prevailing corruption in the country.
The Fujimorismo block and its allies had more than 80 members of congress in a unicameral congress of 130 legislators. It was due to a system drafted by Alberto Fujimori during his dictatorship, a period marked by corruption, social conservatism, neoliberal economics, human rights violations and prosecution of left-wing leaders.
Martín Vizcarra assumed office as president in March 2018, following the resignation of his predecessor Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who resigned from his position over allegations of being involved in the infamous corruption scandal of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Vizcarra cannot run in the general elections of 2021 due to constitutional restrictions on consecutive terms.