Shaken by corruption, Peruvians back major government overhaul

Lima (AFP) –


Shaken by a string of high-profile corruption scandals, Peruvians overwhelmingly approved a government overhaul that among other things sends all members of Congress packing by 2021.

Three of the four constitutional reforms proposed by President Martin Vizcarra were approved by nearly 80 percent of voters in a Sunday referendum.

Sick of a do-nothing Congress with leading legislators tainted by corruption and scandal, 75 percent of voters approved a measure banning consecutive re-election, according to results released by the National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE), with 83 percent of the vote counted.

That means that all 130 members of Peru's single-chamber legislature will be out of a job when their mandates end in July 2021.

Figures showed only 13 percent voted to retain lawmakers' ability to seek re-election, the ONPE said.

Also approved were reforms on the way judges are chosen, and tighter campaign financing laws that include criminal penalties for violators.

However more than 81 percent of voters opposed a proposal to return Peru to a dual-chamber legislature -- a sign of how disgusted voters are with the current crop of politicians.

Vizcarra initially supported the dual-chamber proposal, but later opposed it because it included limits on presidential authority.

More than 24 million Peruvians were eligible to vote in the referendum, called upon to mark a simple "Yes" or "No" to each proposal.

Mirou Tavarez Mirabal, head of the observer mission of the Organization of American States (OAS) said vote counting was slow because a large number of tables at voting centers had "opened late."

Voting had also started late in many polling stations on Sunday because volunteers had failed to turn up, the OAS said.

- Victory for Peru's Vizcarra -

The referendum results "are the start of a change that we are seeking for Peru and all Peruvians," Vizcarra said at a cabinet meeting when the polls closed.

The vote is a powerful show of support for Vizcarra, a quiet and virtually unknown politician swept into office when then-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was forced to resign in March.

Vizcarra harnessed public outrage to force Congress -- controlled by supporters of Keiko Fujimori, Kuczynski's nemesis -- to allow the referendum.

In late October Fujimori herself was taken into custody after a court ordered she be held in preventive detention for three years pending the outcome of a money laundering probe linked to Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

Peru's last four presidents -- Alejandro Toledo, Alan Garcia, Ollanta Humala and Kuczynski -- have all been linked to illicit Odebrecht payments.

Humala and his wife were briefly jailed, while authorities are seeking the extradition of Toledo, currently living in the United States and formally charged with taking a $20 million Odebrecht bribe.

Supporters of Fujimori, a two-time leading presidential candidate and daughter of jailed ex-president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000), opposed the constitutional reform measures, as did supporters of Garcia and his once-powerful APRA party.

Voters jeered when Garcia -- who was forced to abandon Uruguay's embassy one week ago when his political asylum request was rejected -- cast his ballot on Sunday. His secretary Ricardo Pinedo was beaten.

The referendum coincided with a runoff vote for governors in 15 of Peru's 25 regions.

Reflecting the scale of Vizcarra's task, 18 of the 30 candidates are currently facing investigations or legal proceedings that could see them end up in prison.

One of the candidates in Lima is a fugitive from justice, while a candidate in the southern region of Arequipa faces accusations of multiple rape.