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Peru's President Dissolves Congress

Peru's President Martin Vizcarra addresses the nation, as he announced he was dissolving Congress. Peruvian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Peru's President Martin Vizcarra addresses the nation, as he announced he was dissolving Congress. Peruvian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Peru's President Dissolves Congress
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Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra dissolved congress Monday. Vizcarra used his powers as Peru’s head of state to dismiss the opposition-controlled legislature. He accused opposition lawmakers of trying to stop his efforts to end corruption.

Vizcarra told the South American nation that he had decided to call new legislative elections. He announced his decision after lawmakers voted to replace almost all the judges on the Peruvian Constitutional Tribunal.

"We are making history that will be remembered by future generations," he said. He added that he hoped the future generations understood he was in a fight against “evil that has caused much harm to our country.”

Vizcarra's decision is likely to be widely welcomed by Peruvians, who have been asking for new congressional elections to replace the majority party.

Keiko Fujimori, a daughter of former President Alberto Fujimori, is the party’s leader. She is being held in detention, and has been accused of accepting more than $1 million in bribes.

"Peruvians will not shed many tears," said Harvard University political scientist Stephen Levitsky. He has extensively studied the nation.

The decision to dissolve Congress may, however, cause problems for the government. Opposition leaders called the move the work of a "dictator." They began pushing for a vote to oust Vizcarra as president, but it will have little value since the congress has been dissolved.

"This was the plan from the start," said a spokeswoman for Fuerza Popular, the party of Keiko Fujimori.

Vizcarra became president last year after President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski from office. The resignation followed reports that Kuczynski’s private business had received large amounts of money from Odebrecht, a Brazilian company. Odebrecht has admitted giving millions of dollars to politicians throughout Latin America in exchange for deals to build public works projects.

Vizcarra became popular in Peru because of his support for anti-corruption laws. But he has struggled to get legislation through congress. He was forced to use a “vote of confidence” threat to get any legislation passed.

Recently, Vizcarra criticized lawmakers for being in a hurry to organize a vote on replacing six of the Constitutional Tribunal’s seven members. While the magistrates’ terms had ended, Vizcarra believed lawmakers were trying to fill the tribunal with judges who would slow down corruption investigations.

The court is expected to rule soon on several important cases, including a request to free Fujimori. The government is holding her while its lawyers investigate reports that she laundered money from Odebrecht.

The newspaper El Comercio reported Monday that six of the candidates for a judgeship have been accused of such crimes as kidnapping and sex abuse.

Peru's judicial system is known to be corrupt. Investigators have caught judges negotiating deals on sentences for serious crimes.

Vizcarra had warned he would dissolve congress if legislators went ahead with the magistrate votes. He wanted lawmakers first to discuss his proposal for reforming the process of how judges are chosen.

Lawmakers pushed forward with the vote on Monday. They accused Vizcarra of barring what should have been a "simple” vote under the rules of the law.

"The political crisis we're in is only Vizcarra's fault," legislator Mauricio Mulder said.

It could be worse.

In 1992, Alberto Fujimori dissolved Peru’s congress, seized legislative powers and suspended the constitution.

In comparison, Vizcarra's shutdown is likely to be considered an honest use of constitutional powers, Stephen Levitsky said. He added that he expects more political problems in the days to come. He explained that the Fuerza party will likely lose its majority in a new election, but that could create a new congress full of inexperienced legislators.

"For now, democracy is probably safe because everyone is weak," he said.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in this Story

dissolve – v. to officially end something, such as a marriage or organization

bribe – n. something valuable that is given in order to get someone to do something

launder (money) – v. to put money that you got by doing something illegally into a business or bank in order to hide where it really came from