September 18, 2018 / 2:03 PM / a month ago

Peru president's call for confidence vote not a power grab: minister

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra decision to trigger a legislative procedure that could allow him to dissolve Congress is not a power grab but a constitutional way to pressure lawmakers to pass urgent reforms, his foreign minister said in an interview.

FILE PHOTO: Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra speaks after being sworn in as Peru's President at the congress building in Lima, Peru March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo/File Photo

Nestor Popolizio defended Vizcarra’s decision to summon a vote of confidence in his Cabinet as part of the president’s efforts to fight graft and strengthen institutions, denying allegations by opposition lawmakers that it was authoritarian.

Accusing lawmakers of stalling his core reforms, Vizcarra late Sunday called for the vote of confidence as a way to move four bills to clean up the judiciary and Congress in response to an influence-peddling scandal that triggered street protests.

Under Peru’s constitution, if Congress delivers a vote of no confidence, Vizcarra would have to replace his entire Cabinet but he could also dissolve Congress and call for legislative elections.

The heightened tensions between Congress and the president have ushered in a new period of political uncertainty in one of Latin America’s most stable economies.

Demonstrators attend a protest to support Peru's President Martin Vizcarra after he asked the Congress for a new vote of confidence in his Cabinet in Lima, Peru September 18, 2018. The sign reads: 'Referendum goes'. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

“I know this legal framework doesn’t exist in other countries. That’s why it may create a certain type of confusion or interpretation,” Popolizio told Reuters late Monday after Vizcarra’s decision drew international attention.

“But it’s an absolutely democratic process that adheres to the Peruvian constitution,” he said.

Popilizio’s remarks hinted at concerns within Vizcarra’s six-month-old government about how the dispute might be playing out abroad. The last time a president closed Congress in Peru was in 1992, during the authoritarian rule of Alberto Fujimori.

It was Fujimori who passed the current constitution in 1993, giving presidents strong powers to check Congress. His daughter Keiko Fujimori now leads the conservative opposition party, Popular Force, which has an absolute majority in Congress.

Popular Force lawmakers have said other matters are more pressing than Vizcarra’s proposed reforms, such as rebuilding regions affected by severe flooding last year.

The party criticized Vizcarra’s request for the vote of confidence as unconstitutional on Monday, with some lawmakers accusing him of trying to stage a legislative coup d’etat.

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But Popolizio said Vizcarra’s political strategy was just as constitutional as Popular Force’s push to remove former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski from office under Article 113 of the constitution on grounds he was not morally fit to govern.

Congress’ first vote to push out Kuczynski failed but the former Wall Street banker resigned on the eve of a second ballot.

“The question of confidence as well as the presidential vacancy procedures are covered in the constitution,” Popolizio said. “They are by nature democratic. They are precisely part of the democratic game that exists in the country.”

Popolizio said Peru’s economy was “growing and will continue to grow at some of the best rates in the region,” and Vizcarra’s bid to ensure passage of his proposed reforms will only help.

“These are good signs for investors,” Popolizio said. “If you have a judiciary that’s working properly and solid institutions, what you have is legal security encouraging investment.”

Vizcarra’s prime minister is expected to address Congress on Wednesday to ask lawmakers to pass the reforms and renew confidence in the Cabinet.

Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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