The legislature had two houses: a Senate composed of 60 members and a Chamber of Deputies composed of 180 members. Members of Congress were elected to five-year terms of office, which ran concurrently with those of the president and vice presidents. Members of both chambers had to be native Peruvians; senators had to be at least thirty-five years of age; deputies, twenty-five. There was no prohibition on the reelection of congressional representatives.
Congress had the power to initiate and pass legislation; interpret, amend, and repeal existing legislation; draft sanctions for violation of legislation; approve treaties; approve the budget and general accounts; authorize borrowing; exercise the right of amnesty; and delegate the legislative function to the president. A vote of two-thirds of each house was required to pass or amend legislation. The constitution mandated a balanced budget. If Congress did not come up with a balanced budget by December 15 of each year, the president promulgated a budget by executive decree. Congress convened twice annually, from July 27 to December 15 and again from April 1 to May 31.
Members of Congress were elected according to their position on party lists, rather than on the basis of local or regional representation, and thus did not have a strong regional or executive base of support. This is not to say that they had no regional representation. Whereas members of the Senate were elected by regions, members of the Chamber of Deputies were distributed in accordance with the d'Hondt system of proportional representation, which is based primarily on electoral density, with at least one deputy from each district.
Voters cast votes for a particular party, which presented a list of candidates in numerical order of preference. Voters were allowed to indicate a first-choice candidate, and these votes were tallied as "preferential votes," which might determine a candidate's position on the list in future elections, or which region he or she represents. According to the percentage of votes per region or department, a certain number of seats were allotted in the Congress for that party. A candidate's position on the party list determined whether or not he or she obtained a congressional seat. There was, however, no direct regional representation in the central government, a situation that would not be changed by the introduction of regional governments, as their role was to be strictly limited to the regions.
Congress had the power to censure the Council of Ministers and to demand information through interpellation. Yet, this gave it more of a reactive power than anything else. If the Chamber of Deputies used its vote of no confidence three times, the president could dissolve the body. Although Congress could make life difficult for the executive branch through censure, interpellation, or the creation of special investigative commissions, these processes occurred largely after-the-fact.
Particularly with the increase in insurgent violence and the large proportion of the country under emergency rule, the power of the Congress to pass legislation with an impact on significant sectors of the population was increasingly limited. At times, though, after-the-fact processes had resulted in the halting or repeal of damaging legislation. For example, President García's decree nationalizing banks in July 1987 was repealed in late 1990, and President Fujimori's Decree Law 171, which legislated that all crimes committed by the military in the emergency zones be tried in military courts, was repealed in early 1991. In addition, the Congress's special investigative commissions on issues such as human rights and judicial corruption, although perhaps unable to have immediate impact on policy, have been quite successful at bringing such matters to public attention.
The discretionary power accorded the president was designed to avoid the stalemate that occurred prior to 1968, yet it resulted in a system that was highly concentrated in the power of the executive, with little or no public accountability and little significant input on the part of the legislature. Although the Congress could hold ministers accountable for their actions, there was little it could do, short of impeachment, to affect the operations of the president. The president, meanwhile, unconstrained by midterm elections or immediate reelection, had little incentive to build a lasting base of support in the legislature.
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