Congress to hold second vote to approve new ombudsman on June 14

Peru’s Congress will hold another vote on Tuesday (June 14) to elect a new ombudsman, state news agency Andina reported the president of Congress, Cesar Zumaeta, as saying.

The former dean of the Lima Bar Association and publisher of Gaceta Juridica, Walter Gutierrez, has been nominated to the post.

Congress held a vote this week and while support was overwhelming for Gutierrez, a high number of absentees prevented appointment. During the vote, 77 lawmakers approved his appointment, with zero against and 27 absentees. Eighty votes are required to approve the measure.

Most of the absentees were members of president-elect Ollanta Humala’s Nationalist party. With the presidential election decided, Zumaeta said he expects a better turn-out to approve the appointment of Gutierrez.

Walter Alban, dean of the law faculty at the Catolica university and a former deputy ombudsman, believes the election should be postponed until the new Congress is sworn in barely six weeks from now.

Independently of Gutierrez’ qualifications, the election is not being held “under the best conditions and we all know that the new Congress is composed differently,” Alban said (the ruling Apra party currently has 36 seats but will only have four in the new Congress).

“This parliament had its chance and let it slip by, practically, and I don’t think at this stage they should try to fix that by trying to force an election that is not ripe,” Alban said, adding that the election should be a consensus and would be more effective if conducted by the new Congress. 

If  Gutierrez is elected June 14, he will replace Beatriz Merino, who resigned earlier this year when Congress failed to ratify her for a further five-year term.  Merino was a firm critic of the government’s handling of social conflicts, many of which could have been avoided at the negotiating table in the early stages.  Cases in point are the 2010 tragedy in Bagua, which took the lives of 14 policemen and 10 indigenous protestors, and the more recent strikes in Puno.  There are currently 270 social conflicts in the country, most of them related to environmental issues and the right of indigenous communities to be consulted on development in their territories.

Merino, who is currently the president of the Peru’s private pension fund association, has been suggested by the media as a candidate for Humala’s cabinet chief.

Merino confirmed on Friday that she has not discussed the opportunity with Humala, who was elected on June 5 with over 51 percent support.

“I want to confirm what the President-elect has said, with respect to there being absolutely no conversation of this topic with him or with any other person from Gana Peru,” Merino told Radioprogramas.

“We should wait patiently, with confidence and optimism for the decisions of the President-elect,” she added.

Humala will assume office on July 28. He began a trip this week throughout South America on Thursday, beginning with Brazil, to meet with his future counterparts to solidify ties.

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