(Bloomberg) -- Peru’s congress over the last seven years has become notorious for its unchecked powers to impeach presidents, putting the nation under seven different leaders in that time while undercutting growth in what had been one of the region’s standout economies.
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But on Thursday, congress took an initial surprise step to curtail those powers that could improve governance by passing legislation to create a second chamber of congress, diluting the powers of a parliament that currently only has one chamber.
The vote by a super majority of 93 of 130 lawmakers will allow them to push this reform through if they can muster a super majority in a second vote next year. Had lawmakers obtained only a simple majority, they would have had to put the measure to a national referendum. The news came as a shock to most Peruvians given congress’s failure to keep the public informed and in the loop.
A broad consensus of Peru watchers agree that the country’s current single-chamber congress has created significant problems for its democracy. The extreme political volatility triggered by the cycle of impeachments has taken a toll on Peru’s economy, once among the fastest-growing in Latin America, which this year fell into a recession.
Read More: Impeachment Mania Unravels an Economic Miracle in Latin America
“I think that in theory this is a good reform, the issue is that congress has a legitimacy problem,” said Gonzalo Banda, a Peruvian political analyst. “In any decent country, a reform like this would have had public discussions to address the pros and cons, but not in Peru.”
In 2018, 91% of Peruvians in a referendum rejected the proposed creation of a Senate. But the move also faces questions of motivation. In the same referendum, Peruvians voted against allowing for the reelection of lawmakers, but the new bill passed Thursday would not place term-limits on senators.
Peru has had two chambers of congress for most of its history. But it was President Alberto Fujimori who in 1992 illegally dissolved congress and then streamlined it into one chamber, after rewriting the constitution.
This newer structure has long been criticized by political scientists, who argue that a single chamber can have too much power and face too little scrutiny. For example, impeaching a president requires a single vote in congress and the whole process can be carried out in less than a week.
The result has given congress great power and has made it deeply unpopular. An Ipsos poll this month found congress only has an 11% approval rating, just slightly better than Boluarte’s 10% approval rating.
The vote “Is a first step towards strengthening the institutional framework. Should be positive for the market,” said Gonzalo Navarro, a currency strategist with bank BBVA in an email to clients.
But even political scientists who support the move, have been skeptical that congress will be able to push it through.
“A congress with an approval rating this low does not have enough legitimacy to approve constitutional changes this important,” said Fernando Tuesta, a professor of political science at Peru’s Pontifical Catholic University who also headed the committee that proposed the failed referendum to create the senate back in 2018.
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