The President

Peru Table of Contents

The president, who must be Peruvian and over thirty-five years of age, was elected to a five-year term by direct popular vote, along with the first and second vice presidents. The president could not serve two consecutive terms.

The constitutional president had a wide range of powers and served as chief of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. He had the power to appoint members to the Council of Ministers and the Supreme Court of Justice, submit and review legislation enacted by Congress, rule by decree if so delegated by the Congress, declare states of siege and emergency, and dissolve the Chamber of Deputies, if it voted to censure the Council of Ministers three times in one term of office.

In practice, the constitutional president had even more power, as he had a remarkable amount of freedom to rule by decree. Hernando de Soto, an adviser to the Fujimori government, stated in October 1988 that 95 percent of Peruvian laws were passed by presidential decree. Article 211 of the constitution gave the president the authority "to administer public finances, negotiate loans, and decree extraordinary measures in the economic and financial fields, when the national interest so mandates and with responsibility to give account to Congress." An extraordinary number of measures--134,000 per five-year mandate, or 100 per working day--were passed in this manner in the 1970s and 1980s. In the words of De Soto, "every five years we elect a dictator".

As no midterm elections for Congress were held, opposition parties had no means of strengthening their position once the president was elected. Moreover, local and regional governments have remained underdeveloped and largely dependent on the central government for resources. Thus, power has remained concentrated in the central government. As the president could bypass Congress with relative ease and rule by decree, power was even more centralized in the persona of the chief executive. Without consecutive reelection or midterm elections, there was no mechanism by which to make the president accountable to the electorate.

Under the Fujimori government, De Soto was instrumental in initiating a reform of this process, the Democratization of the System of Government, which required laws to be submitted to public referendum before they could be passed. A watered-down version of this reform was passed in March 1991. Although this version was not expected to have notable effects on the actual process, the debate over reform played an important role in heightening public awareness of the accountability issue.

The Council of Ministers consists of a prime minister and the specific sectoral ministers, in areas such as economics, education, health, and industry. In 1986, during the government of Alan García Pérez (1985-90), a Ministry of Defense was created, unifying the three armed forces under the auspices of one ministry. Prior to this, the army, navy, and air force each had its own ministry. The ministers could be called to appear in Congress for an interpellation (interpelación) at any time, as could the entire cabinet (the latter no more than three times per term). It is traditional for all ministers to resign if the prime minister resigns.

It has also been traditional for the prime minister to serve concurrently as economics minister, although there have been several exceptions. After the resignation of a very popular and powerful prime minister, Juan Carlos Hurtado Miller, in February 1991, President Fujimori separated the posts of prime minister and minister of economy, appointing Carlos Torres y Torres and Carlos Boloña Behr, respectively, to those positions. The president was purportedly uncomfortable with the degree of power that Hurtado Miller had and wanted to retain firmer control of the cabinet in general and economic policy in particular. At the same time, Fujimori combined the positions of prime minister and minister of foreign affairs. In a strong presidential system such as Peru's, the position of prime minister, without control of some other functional ministry, is a relatively impotent one.

More about the Government of Peru.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress