Peru president proposes referendum on political, judicial reform

Peru president proposes referendum on political, judicial reform
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By Mitra Taj and Teresa Cespedes

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra on Saturday proposed a referendum to gauge support for banning the private financing of political campaigns, ending the re-election of lawmakers and creating a second chamber in Congress.

Addressing lawmakers in his first Independence Day speech, Vizcarra pressed the opposition-held majority to support reforms aimed at uprooting structural corruption in one of Latin America's most promising economies.

A referendum would seek voters' input on fast-tracking a proposed judicial reform, as well as whether to restrict private financing of political campaigns and end an exemption for lawmakers from laws banning re-election. A return to bicamerality, which ended when former authoritarian leader Alberto Fujimori closed the Senate in 1992, would also be on the ballot, Vizcarra added.

"My government is making a decided bet on strengthening the state as a whole in order to defeat the criminal and corrupt mafias that feed off our country," Vizcarra told lawmakers. "We need the input of all citizens. That's why we're convinced that a referendum is healthy for our democracy."

Vizcarra did not propose a date for the referendum. But Peruvians will go to polls later in October to select mayors, governors and other local officials in regional elections.

A former vice president and governor of a small mining region, Vizcarra vowed to fight corruption "at any cost" when he took office in March to replace Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who resigned the presidency to avoid impeachment on graft and vote-buying allegations.

Since then, a second crisis has gripped the nation of 32 million people as local media have published a stream of phone conversations that appear to show judges trading favours with businessmen, lawmakers and the country's new attorney general.

Thousands of Peruvians have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest systemic graft, with many calling for fresh elections to purge a political class widely viewed as corrupt.

A majority of Peruvians now disapprove of Congress, the government, the judiciary and prosecutors, according to a recent Ipsos poll.

"This crisis has reached a breaking point," Vizcarra said. "That's why, as president of the republic, I've decided, with the support of the citizenry, to lead a change long sought by honest Peruvians."

It was unclear if Congress would give the green light needed for the referendum to be called. Without lawmakers' backing, Vizcarra would have to collect hundreds of thousands of voters' signatures of support.

(Reporting by Mitra Taj and Teresa Cespedes in Lima; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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