Congress Censures Cabinet Chief — Kuczynski to Choose New Team

Cabinet chief Fernando Zavala walks to Congress to request a vote of confidence, flanked by (left) Education minister Marilu Martens, and (right) Ricardo Luna of Foreign Relations and Bruno Giuffra of Transport and Communications. Behind, center, are Health minister Patricia Garcia and Salvador del Solar of Culture, with Eduardo Ferreyros of Trade and Tourism, Carlos Basombrio of Interior and Alfonso Grados of Labor. Photo: Andina

Cabinet chief Fernando Zavala handed in his resignation today to President Kuczynski, following the vote of no confidence last night by the opposition majority in Congress.  Zavala’s 19 cabinet ministers have also resigned.

The President now has 72 hours in which to choose a new president of the council of ministers. But if he wishes, he can reinstate any and all of the other ministers who were serving until yesterday, since the vote of no confidence was against the cabinet chief only — which means that Zavala could remain as Finance minister.

Once Kuczynski appoints his new ministers, the new cabinet chief has 30 days in which to prepare his address to Congress and request a vote of confidence for his own program.

Earlier this week the opposition majority of Fujimoristas, the Fuerza Popular party, stopped short of censuring  Education minister Marilu Martens but demanded that she resign or that the President fire her, on the grounds of incompetence in dealing with a multi-faction teachers’ strike that lasted 56 days.

Kuczynski and Zavala insisted on giving their full backing to Martens, and Zavala demanded that Congress vote on the issue of confidence on him and his cabinet.

Yesterday morning, Zavala and the members of his cabinet walked together to Congress to present his motion, in which he said that “The quality of education of our students, and therefore their opportunity for a better future, is at play. Let’s not jeopardize that future for short term interests.”

Debate in the Congress, which lasted until well after midnight, was dominated by poor arguments, irrelevant accusations, “shyster lawyer arguments” according to analyst Mirko Lauer,  and personal insults that journalist Rosa Maria Palacios described as “a circus, unbearable to listen to.”

The Congress — which voted 77 in favor of denying confidence, 22 against (the PPK party) and 16 abstentions (Apra and the left-wing Nuevo Peru) — is crying victory over the Kuczynski administration, which it has obstructed consistently since July last year.  Since President Kuczynski was sworn in in July last year, the opposition majority has forced the resignation of Finance minister Alfredo Thorne, of Vice-president Martin Vizcarra from the Transport portfolio, and Martens’ predecessor in Education, Jaime Saavedra.

Martens and Saavedra have resigned within nine months of each other, in a battle by the Fujimoristas against a gender equity issue in the school syllabus but more so against the new laws governing regulations of private universities and academic institutions, which the Apra party lawmakers also push against.   Jaime Saavedra, who was continuing to successfully improve educational standards since 2013 when he joined the previous administration, was censured by Congress only five months into Kuczynski’s government.  The censure was described at the time by The Economist as a small act of national suicide.  Saavedra now leads the Education Global Practice at the World Bank Group.

This time, Congress’ sense of victory may be short-lived.

With this vote of no confidence, Palacios says, the opposition majority in Congress has painted itself into a corner.  It has now censured one cabinet chief and, according to the Constitution, if it censures a second cabinet, the President has the right to dissolve Congress and call for elections of new lawmakers.  Kuczynski, who has tried tirelessly, and unsuccessfully,  to seek consensus with the opposition, may not take that major step.  “But what if he does?,” asks Palacios.

Several analysts have expressed doubt that the loyalty demanded and expected of the 72 Fuerza Popular lawmakers by their leader, Keiko Fujimori, will be able to withstand the loyalty test of their paychecks.   As members of Congress elected for the 2016-2021 term, they are relying on four more years of an average $4,700 per month (plus almost the same amount for expenses), in a country where average middle management may earn the same but state employees are more in the range of $750.


New York postponed

President Kuczynski has had to postpone his scheduled trip to the U.N. General Assembly in New York because of this cabinet crisis, although he is expected to complete the second half of the journey next week, to the Vatican to present the formal invitation to Pope Francis, who is to visit Peru in January 2018.  The trip itself was in jeopardy until the last minute because the Congressional majority was dragging its feet in granting the President permission to travel, inventing unconstitutional reasons such as the need to decide on his foreign policy actions.

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One Comment

  1. How sad this all is. With all the needless quibbling and grandstanding I now have a young friend attending Saturday school to make up for lost days due to the strike. And I know how important education is for her and in Peru. She didn’t even get to start until age ten. (The Mari Carmen of the Nov. 2014 poem in this publication.) Peru’s most important resource is its young people and they are are the key to a better future. Just get on with it Peru. Those young people are the key to better institutions of the future.

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