Members of Peru’s congress will begin debating on Tuesday whether or not to allow a public referendum to decide if the nation should return to a bicameral legislative system, taking up the proposal introduced by President Martin Vizcarra on August 10.
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Bill No. 3185/2018, which seeks to change several constitution articles to divide the current unicameral government into an upper and lower house, will head to the congressional Constitutional Commission on Tuesday where members debate sending the bill to a public vote on the issue.
The bill, spearheaded by President Vizcarra from the minority party Peruvians For Change, outlines how many elected officials each house can have, and the necessary qualifications to run for each — senators must be at least 35 years of age and have 10 years of work experience, and house member must be 25 years or older and are not required to have a minimum work experience.
Officials will be elected to a five-year term. Vizcarra has said he would like to cap term limits to one electoral cycle. The number of 130 elected officials would remain the same, but they would be divided – 30 in the Senate and 100 in the house of representatives.
Politicals parties would have to nominate 50 percent female and 50 percent male candidates to ensure gender parity. The president’s proposal would also realign voting districts.
The proposal is Vizcarra’s attempt to distance himself from a government infused with institutionalized corruption. The president’s former running mate and predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, resigned in March after continually lying under oath that he had not accepted over US$800,000 in Odebrecht kickbacks. The country is currently facing a judicial crisis after supreme court member, Cesar Hinostroza, was suspended in July on corruption allegations in a far-reaching case that involves the nation’s attorney general and former presidential candidate, Keiko Fujimori.
Thousands of Peruvians have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest systemic graft, with many calling for fresh elections.
A majority of Peruvians now disapprove of Congress, the government, the judiciary, and prosecutors, according to a recent Ipsos poll.
"My government is making a decided bet on strengthening the state as a whole in order to defeat the criminal and corrupt mafias that feed off our country," Vizcarra said before Congress in late July.
"We need the input of all citizens. That’s why we’re convinced that a referendum is healthy for our democracy."
Constitutional lawyer Cesar Landa told local media that the criticism of the bicameral project should not be focused by the number of legislators.
"We have to look at the qualitative benefits of the change. We hope the change makes (the legislator) better and that there are senators of quality," said Landa.
Lawyer Anibal Quiroga said that creating a bicameral system, “is a favorable thing, but the problem is that the project modifies almost a third of the Constitution."
"This crisis has reached a breaking point," Vizcarra said. "That’s why, as president of the republic, I’ve decided, with the support of the citizenry, to lead a change long sought by honest Peruvians."
The country’s bicameral legislature was dissolved by the convicted former president Alberto Fujimori en 1992.