After an extended session stretching over two days, Congress yesterday, 27 August, voted to endorse President Pedro Castillo’s first cabinet. There were 73 votes in favor versus 50 against. Below we examine the key takeaways from the vote.
The vote represents an immediate-term boost to stability after a very rocky first month of the Castillo presidency. However, stability could be fleeting. There are legitimate questions as to whether several ministers are fit for public office, nobody more so than the Prime Minister (PCM) Guido Bellido himself. Opposition parties have already made it clear that they will put individual ministers under scrutiny in the weeks ahead, while Bellido has already threatened to submit the entire cabinet to another vote of confidence if congressional oversight of ministers becomes excessive.
The main motivation for endorsing the cabinet was to avoid using one of only two “golden bullets” against the executive at such an early stage of Castillo’s presidency: Congress is entitled to withhold its confidence and force a cabinet change but can only do so twice before the executive is empowered to dissolve the legislature. The parties that voted against the cabinet yesterday – led by Fuerza Popular (FP), Avanza Pais (AP), and Renovacion Popular (RP) – are only likely to risk a head-on confrontation when it is clear that their numbers are approaching two-thirds of Congress (87 votes).
The votes of most of the centerground Popular Action (AP) and the Alliance for Progress (APP) congressional blocs ultimately tipped the balance. Given Castillo’s relative popularity in the regions, AP and APP legislators representing districts beyond Lima were under particular pressure to endorse the cabinet. These two parties would also be crucial in any future impeachment vote. Recall that the governing Peru Libre (PL)-led bloc of 42 is not only a minority but also internally fragile.
Bellido’s speech laying out his government plan was less confrontational than it might have been but it was also vague. Crucially, Bellido dropped any mention of constitutional changes even though this was a focus of Castillo’s inauguration speech a month ago. The PL has not dropped its proposal to re-write the constitution. Instead, the plan seems to be to push a change via a public referendum. This will continue to represent a major potential flashpoint between the government and Congress.
The lead-up to yesterday’s vote underlined the confusion and internal rivalry that characterize this government. To win the vote of confidence, Castillo was apparently ready to jettison Bellido in favor of a more moderate PCM but changed his mind after PL party boss Vladimir Cerron reacted strongly against any shift to pragmatism, or what he terms “a second Humalismo ” in reference to former president Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), who rejected radical leftism in favor of pragmatism. Cerron had previously slammed the appointment of Oscar Maurtua as foreign minister to replace Hector Bejar. Castillo cannot afford to see the PL split but every gesture of pragmatism is met with hostility by Cerron, which will continue to contribute to policy zigzagging and incoherence.