Peruvian Congress strikes down proposals for 2023 elections, protests continue

Following the votes in Congress, the government of Dina Boluarte presented a bill to hold general elections in October 2023, a central demand of protesters

February 03, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Peru protests
Hundreds of Peruvians mobilized in Lima on February 1, 2023, to honor the more than 60 fatal victims of the violent repression in the country. (Photo: Juan Zapata/Wayka)

On Wednesday February 1, Peru’s de facto government led by Dina Boluarte presented a new bill to Congress that proposes to advance general elections and hold them on the second Sunday of October 2023. The step came hours after the Congress voted down a bill to hold elections in December 2023. Holding fresh elections this year is one of the fundamental demands of the hundreds of thousands of Peruvians, who have been taking to the streets across the country since the coup d’état against President Pedro Castillo on December 7, 2022.

The bill, approved by Boluarte’s Council of Ministers, proposes four special transitional provisions. The first provision specifies that the country’s current president will conclude their mandate on December 31, 2023, the legislators on December 29, 2023, and the representatives to the Andean Parliament on December 31, 2026. It also specifies that the new president, who will be elected in the October elections, will call for the elections for the representatives to the Andean Parliament alongside the regional and municipal elections in 2026. The new representatives will assume office on January 1, 2027 and conclude their representation on July 27, 2028.

The second provision establishes that the new head of state will take office on December 31, 2023, and conclude their term on July 28, 2028. Similarly, it adds that the lawmakers will take the oath on December 29, 2023 and conclude their term on July 26, 2028.

The third provision states that the electoral authorities should take appropriate actions to ensure the optimal and timely execution of the elections. The fourth states that Congress can approve other laws for the holding of the general elections in 2023, until February 28, 2023.

In a press conference, de facto Prime Minister Alberto Otárola explained that the bill followed Boluarte’s promise to present an urgent bill for early elections if the parliament rejected the one it was debating. He stressed that Boluarte will not step down from office, despite repeated calls for her immediate resignation. He requested the Congress to approve the bill seeking the advancement of presidential and legislative elections.

Congress rejects early elections

Peruvian Congress has rejected two bills that called for elections to be held in 2023. 

On February 1, the plenary session of the Congress, 53 votes in favor, 68 against and two abstentions, rejected the bill presented by Legislator Hernando Guerra García of the far-right Popular Force party. The bill, as it was a constitutional reform, needed the support of 87 of the 130 parliamentarians.

The now rejected bill sought to bring forward the general elections to December 2023. It proposed that the current president and legislators will conclude their mandates on April 30, 2024, while the new president and the lawmakers will assume their respective positions on May 1, 2024 and on April 30, 2024, and conclude their terms on July 28, 2026, and July 26, 2026, respectively.

Legislators associated with left-wing parties, who rejected Guerra García’s bill, demanded that the advancement of elections be accompanied by a referendum for a Constituent Assembly, another fundamental demand of the protesters. These parties instead had rallied behind a bill presented by Jaime Quito of the left-wing Free Peru party on February 2, which proposes that the elections be held in the next 120 days and that a referendum be installed to consult the citizens if they agree or not with the formation of a Constituent Assembly to draft a new Political Constitution.

Legislator Isabel Cortez of the progressive Together For Peru party, said that “a constituent assembly is the clamor of the people” and stressed “we (the legislators) must give this solution.”

“When I assumed the responsibility of being a member of congress, I swore for a constituent assembly. Why? Because it is the clamor of the people that has been heard for many years. In every march, in every meeting, in every assembly of trade unions, a referendum for a constituent assembly is the only thing that is pronounced. It is not as the friends of Fujimorismo say that it is our whim. A constituent assembly is the clamor, the request of many Peruvians at the national level,” said Cortez during the debate.

“I believe that it is time to reach a consensus, an agreement, and ask ourselves what is better for our country, what is that our country asking for at this moment, what are the Peruvians asking for in the streets, a referendum, a constituent assembly, and for Ms. Dina Boluarte to leave. This is the clamor of many Peruvians and I believe that many of our colleagues agree here and therefore we must give this solution,” she added.

Quito’s bill was defeated with only 48 votes in favor, and 75 against.

In December 2022, Congress had already approved a bill to bring forward elections from April 2026 to April 2024. A final vote on it is due in February. However, in the face of relentless nationwide protests, demanding Boluarte’s resignation, Congress’ closure, elections this year, and a new constitution, the de facto president has urged the Congress to further move up elections.

Mass protests demanding structural changes continue

On Thursday, February 2, while the parliamentarians continued to debate bills on early elections in the Congress, thousands of citizens marched peacefully through the streets across the country, pressing for their demands for structural socio-political changes.

In the capital Lima, the protesters demonstrated in public squares such as Plaza Dos de Mayo and Plaza San Martín, as well as in the vicinity of public institutions such as the Congress of the Republic and the Government Palace.

Massive mobilizations were recorded in Arequipa, Cusco, and Puno, among other regions. Workers from diverse sectors organized strikes in different cities. Additionally, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, over six dozen roads were blocked in at least 24 provinces.

Since December 7, 2022, Indigenous and peasants communities from the long-neglected countryside of Peru, together with students and workers, have been taking to the streets demanding radical political changes in the country so that “what happened to Castillo, doesn’t happen to another popular leader.”

Castillo was overthrown in a legislative coup carried out by the right-wing opposition majority Congress on December 7, after he tried to dissolve Congress and rule by decree. He was swiftly arrested following his dismissal for allegedly “breaching constitutional order.” On December 15, the Peruvian judiciary extended Castillo’s 7-days preventive detention to 18 months on the Prosecutor’s Office’s request, which is investigating him for the crime of rebellion, among others.

The demonstrators have reiterated that they will remain in the streets against the government, despite the strong repression by the security forces that has left more than 60 people dead and hundreds injured in the past two months of social uprising.

According to a report by the Latin American Strategic Center for Geopolitics (CELAG), the Boluarte government has recorded one of the highest levels of repression and violence in the region. During its first six weeks of administration, it recorded the second highest death toll from police and military repression of social protests since 2000.