PerÚ - Political background

Peru's human history dates from at least 10,500 years ago. The seat of a series of indigenous ruling civilizations, Peru is perhaps most widely known for the last of these, the Inca Empire. The Spanish, led by Francisco Pizarro, landed in Peru in 1531, drawn by the search for the region's legendary mineral riches. The Incas, debilitated by a recent civil war, were easily conquered: the capital at Cusco fell in 1533, and by 1542, the Spanish had consolidated control. Pizarro founded Lima in 1535. Spear-headed by Simon Bolivar and José de San Martín, Peru's liberation from Spanish dominion was proclaimed on 28 July 1821, and achieved in December 1824. Although it took 55 years for Spain to recognize the new nation, Perú's independence marked the end of 250 years of Spanish rule in South America.

Since independence, Peruvian political life has been characterized by alternating periods of constitutional civilian government and extra-constitutional military regimes. Most of the military interventions were of brief duration, followed by a return to elected government. In October 1968, however, the military ousted Fernando Belaunde Terry of the Popular Action party in a bloodless coup, and maintained itself in power until May 1980. Military control of the government ended with the election of Belaunde once again to the presidency. In 1985, Alan Garcia Perez of the American Popular Revolutionary Alliance (APRA), Perú's oldest mass party, was elected to the presidency. Garcia's administration was mired in crisis and controversy: the economy was in a freefall, and terrorists from both the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and Tupac Amaru movements were wreaking havoc.

In 1990, an agrarian engineer whose parents had immigrated to Peru from Japan, Alberto Fujimori, won election as president against the novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. He was reelected in 1995. Fujimori ended hyperinflation, reducing it from a high of 7,500% per year to single digits by 1999. His most enduring claim, however, was his defeat of leftist groups, including the Shining Path. He assumed dictatorial powers in 1992; in response to a general outcry from the international community, he announced that a constitutent assembly would be elected to rewrite the constitution, which was completed in 1993. Fujimori claimed that because the constitution was written after he came to power, he would be eligible for reelection in 2000, a claim which remained constitutionally dubious. He won the 2000 presidential election, which was widely seen to be marked by fraud, and after wide-spread charges of corruption within his administration, led in particular by his intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, he fled Peru for Japan. The Congress spurned a letter of resignation Fujimori faxed to it from Japan, and instead declared the president to be "morally unfit" for the office. It elected its own speaker, Valentin Paniagua, as Peru's caretaker president. Alejandro Toledo was elected president in June 2001.

The Constitution provides for executive power to be held by the president, who is elected to a five-year term. Under a 1993 amendment, a president may serve consecutive terms. If no candidate for the presidency receives an absolute majority of votes, a second-round runoff between the two top vote-getters is necessary. There is a 20-member appointed cabinet, which may include a prime minister. Legislative power is vested in the bicameral Congress, composed of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The Senate includes 60 members elected on a regional basis to five-year terms, plus former constitutionally elected presidents as life members. The Chamber of Deputies is composed of 180 members elected to five-year terms on the basis of proportional representation. Voting is mandatory for all citizens over the age of 18, including the illiterate population.

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