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Shaken by corruption, Peruvians back major gov't overhaul

Peru's last four presidents have all been linked to illicit Odebrecht payments.

Monday 10 December, 2018
A woman outside a polling station in Ollantaytambo, Peru, where voters decided on President Martin Vizcarra's constitutional reforms aimed at eradicating corruption, on December 9, 2018.
A woman outside a polling station in Ollantaytambo, Peru, where voters decided on President Martin Vizcarra's constitutional reforms aimed at eradicating corruption, on December 9, 2018. Foto:Teo Bizca / AFP

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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, 78 percent of voters approved a measure banning consecutive re-election, according to official results with more than half 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.

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.

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.

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

by Luis Jaime Cisneros & Francisco Jara/AFP

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