Peru, Constitutions

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Peru, Constitutions

Peru has had twelve documents called constitutions since 1823. The first of these was suspended before it went into effect, others were short-lived, and only two have lasted longer than twenty years. Even this claim to longevity may be misleading: The most enduring constitution—that of 1860—was interrupted by a new constitution within seven years (which was in place for only four months), by the War of the Pacific (1879–1883), and by five successful coups d'état before its definitive demise after Augusto B. Leguía's 1919 coup. The second most enduring constitution—that of 1933—lasted through the assassination of President Luis M. Sánchez Cerro within weeks of its promulgation, the unconstitutional three-year extension of President Oscar R. Benavides's term of office from 1936 to 1939, and three major periods of military rule after coups led by Generals Manuel A. Odría, Ricardo Pérez Godoy, and Juan Velasco Alvarado in 1948, 1962, and 1968, respectively. In the context of such constitutional instability, it is noteworthy that the 1993 constitution, written after Alberto Fujimori's self-coup, has outlived its predecessor and has endured longer than most of Peru's political frameworks.

Constitutions recognize rights and organize the distribution of power within the state. The most politically significant set of rights are those related to citizen participation in the political process. In Peru, political participation rights have been limited by age, gender, literacy, property, and professional status. The age of majority oscillated between twenty-five and twenty-one years until 1978, when it was lowered to eighteen years. Women did not vote until 1956; they were first given the right to vote in municipal elections by the 1933 constitution, but no municipal elections were held until after 1955, when women were given the right to vote in all elections. Class and literacy requirements had more complex histories. The 1823 constitution extended political rights to adult males who had property or a profession, and excluded those subject to others as servants or day laborers. It also excluded those who did not know how to read and write, although the literacy requirement was to be suspended until 1840. The 1826 constitution required literacy, but the 1828, 1834, and 1867 constitutions—all short-lived—did not. The 1839 constitution required literacy (except for some indigenous and mestizos) and the payment of a contribution, and the 1856 constitution gave the right of suffrage to adult males who were literate, or workshop chiefs, or real property owners, or legally retired from the army or navy. The 1860 constitution had the same requirements as the 1856 document, but also allowed those who made contributions to the public treasury to vote. The 1860 constitution was modified in 1895 to stipulate only literacy as a requirement for adult male suffrage, a requirement not finally abandoned until 1979.

Despite some promonarchy sentiment, Peru's early constitutions proclaimed Peru's form of government to be popular and representative—even Bolívar's 1826 constitution, in effect for only seven weeks, which called for a president-for-life.

Aside from that, the presidential term has ranged from four to six years with no immediate reelection, but allowing reelection after one term out of office. Only the 1828 and 1993 constitutions allowed for immediate reelection to one additional term, although Leguía's 1920 constitution was twice modified, first to allow for one additional term and then to allow for unlimited reelection. After the fall of Fujimori in 2000, the 1993 constitution was amended to prohibit immediate reelection.

Peru's constitutional regimes have been presidential, but have acquired some characteristics more typical of parliamentary regimes. Congress began calling ministers to account early on, but the 1860 constitution was the first to explicitly oblige ministers to respond to the legislature's interpellations, whereas the 1867 constitution was the first to recognize the right of congress to censure and force the resignation of ministers. To the extent that Peru's constitutions have allowed the legislature to exercise authority over ministerial policy via the power of interpellation and censure, Peru's regime may be described more properly as a mixed regime, even though it has functioned in most other respects as a presidential regime. The repeated breakdown of democracy under the 1933 constitution led to efforts to strengthen the presidency in the 1979 constitution, and the 1993 constitution sought to strengthen the presidency still further. As no regime since independence has lasted without interruption for more than twenty years, Peru's quest for a stable democratic constitutional regime continues.


García Belaunde, Domingo, and Walter Gutiérrez Camacho. Las Constituciones del Perú. Lima: Ministerio de Justicia, 1993.

Pareja Paz-Soldán, José. Historia de las Constituciones Nacionales (1812–1979). Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, 2005.

Planas, Pedro. Democracia y Tradición Constitucional en el Perú. Lima: San Marcos, 1998.

                                  Charles D. Kenney