Peru leader pushes vote that could let him dissolve congress

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra on Friday escalated his feud with the opposition-controlled congress, saying he would push for a vote of confidence on his administration as he campaigns for stronger curbs on corruption.

Should the legislature reject the vote, Vizcarra would have grounds under Peru’s constitution to dismiss congress and hold new elections.

“It’s clear the democracy of our nation is at risk,” he said in a televised address to the nation.

Vizcarra has made fighting Peru’s endemic graft the signature drive of his presidency, clashing frequently with congress as he pushes through reforms aimed at preventing ethical violations in government.

The political duel intensified in recent weeks after lawmakers decided to shelve Vizcarra’s proposal to hold early presidential and congressional elections, which he argues is necessary to break the deadlock and stabilize the nation.

Vizcarra scolded congress for dismissing the initiative “without even allowing a discussion” and then quickly moving forward with scheduling a vote on new appointments to the Constitutional Tribunal.

“With incredible speed, they proposed candidates in half an hour, without even weighing whether some of the candidates have ties to those being investigated for corruption,” he said.

The high court is set to decide on a number of important cases in the months ahead, including a habeas corpus request to free Keiko Fujimori, the former first daughter whose party controls congress. She is being held while prosecutors investigate allegations of money laundering related to the massive Odebrecht corruption scandal.

Lawmakers have scheduled the vote to replace six of the court’s seven magistrates Monday. Their terms had already expired, but Vizcarra and others, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, have criticized lawmakers for the haste and lack of transparency in which the candidates have been selected.

One of the 11 candidates is Wilber Medina, a lawyer who has indicated that he considers Fujimori a “political prisoner” and previously represented ex-President Alan García. García committed suicide in April as officers arrived at his home to detain him while investigating alleged ties to the Odebrecht scandal.

Three others have voiced their disapproval of Vizcarra’s early election proposal.

“This is an affront to all Peruvians!” he decried.

Vizcarra is expected to propose still unannounced changes to how magistrates to the Constitutional Tribunal are selected, which lawmakers will approve or reject as a sign of confidence in his administration.

Under Peru’s constitution, the executive can push congress to hold a vote of confidence. One such vote already took place under Vizcarra’s predecessor, ex-President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who resigned after opposition lawmakers revealed previously undisclosed payments from Odebrecht to his private consulting firm.

By law, if congress rejects a second confidence vote, the president can then dissolve the legislature.

Vizcarra, who took power in March 2018 after Kuczynski’s resignation, has become an unexpectedly popular president as he takes on the monumental task of rooting out the South American nation’s widespread corruption.

High-profile corruption cases have been exposed in nearly every branch of government, from judges caught negotiating sentences to presidents who prosecutors allege took money from Odebrecht to finance their campaigns.

Nearly every former living president in Peru is being investigated in connection with the probe.