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Peru was born as a free and independent nation through a long emancipating process, which started with the first rebellions of Indians and Spanish-Peruvians. This process had one of its culminating moments in the declaration of national independence on the 28th of July of 1821.

 The doctrinaire foundations of the emancipation process were directly tied to the democratic ideology, which sought to warrant the full effect of citizenry’s rights and duties; the consolidation of the juridical and political order of the country; the respect of the Constitution and the rule of law; the people’s well-being, and the permanent validity of individual guarantees and rights.

 One of the main means to materialize these ideals and warrant the enforcement of its objectives is the division of powers into three different autonomous and independent branches: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The legislative power, specifically, is vested in the Congress of the Republic, whose members are elected by the citizenry through voting, and hence, perform their functions on behalf of the people.

The first convening to a Constituent Congress was made by the General Jose de San Martin through Supreme Decree 146 of December 27, 1821. In order to enforce this order, a committee in charge of preparing the elections regulations was formed, which fixed the number of representatives – 79 proprietors and 38 deputies – who would be elected pursuant to the estimate of the population of each department.

The first representatives met on September 20th, 1822, at 10 a.m. in the palace of government. From there, they headed for the cathedral to request divine assistance by hearing a mass dedicated to the Holy Spirit, celebrated by the Ecclesiastic Governor Dean of Lima’s Archbishopric, Dr. Francisco Javier de Echagüe. Later on, the hymn Veni Sancte Spiritus was sung; then the Dean made a confirmation of their faith and highlighted the importance of the oath they were about to take. Afterwards, the State Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Francisco Valdivieso, pronounced the oath formula:

“Do you swear to preserve the holy catholic, apostolic, and roman religion as proper to the state; maintain Peru’s integrity; not to spare efforts to free it from its ppressors; faithfully and legally exert the powers that the peoples have invested in you; and achieve the high aims for which you have been elected?”
The representatives replied: “Yes, we do.”

After this, two by two started to touch the book of the Holy Scriptures. To finish the act, San Martin added:

“If you honor what you have sworn, may God reward you; and if not, may He and the Fatherland judge you”.

After this, two by two, they touched the book of the Holy Gospel. To finish the act, San Martin added:

“If you honor what you have sworn, may God reward you; and if not, may He and the Fatherland judge you”.

Next, the ecclesiastic governor sang the Te Deum, followed by a choir. At that moment, a 22-gun salute was fired at the Main Square, at Callao port, and the ships of the Navy. A general bell pealing began in the city and lasted till the arrival of the representatives at San Marcos University headquarters. The first Constituent Congress was set up on September 20th, 1822, in the university chapel, then located in part of the site currently occupied by the Legislative Palace. Before this Congress, San Martin resigned his post as Protector so as to leave the country free to decide its destiny. At that occasion, the Protector delivered the following allocution:

From this moment on, the Sovereign Congress is established and the People resume the supreme power in its entirety.”


Once San Martin left the site of Congress, the representatives chose as interim President and Secretary Dr. Toribio Rodriguez de Mendoza and Jose Faustino Sanchez Carrion, respectively. Following this, they proceeded to elect the first executive board of Congress. Its members were: Dr. Francisco Javier de Luna Pizarro as president, Mr. Manuel Salazar y Baquijano as Vice-president; Dr. Jose Faustino Sanchez Carrion as First Secretary; Dr. Francisco Javier Mariátegui as Second Secretary. The Congressional President said:

“The Constituent Congress of Peru is solemnly constituted and set up; sovereignty is vested in the Nation, and its exercise in this Congress, which legitimately represents it.”

Upon San Martin’s irrevocable resignation, the Congress provisionally took on the Executive Power. To that effect, it appointed a committee, called the Ruling Board of Peru which comprised of three members: Jose de la Mar, Felipe Antonio Alvarado, and Manuel Salazar y Baquijano.

The representatives, in order to ensure the operation of Congress, proceeded to appoint its first employees, headed by the Chief Administrative Officer, Mr. Manuel Herrera y Oricain, whose appointment was approved on the session of October 12th, 1822.

Etymologically, “Oficial Mayor”, Secretary-General in Spanish, is made up of two words “Oficial” (officer) and “Mayor” (Senior). Oficial in Spanish comes from the Latin “Officium”, which in the Middle Ages designated anyone who held a public office. And “Senior” (Mayor), together with the previous one, meant in this case “principal”, “first or highest in rank” or “chief”. This denomination was not exclusive for the Congress. However, it is in Parliament where it has taken on a traditional character which lasts till now.

Since the beginning of Peruvian parliamentary history, the Secretary-General has been a high-rank, technical, non-political officer. His administration, despite the multiple variations of political activities, has lasted for long periods, thus fostering institutional continuity in the work of the Legislative Branch. For instance: Juan Martin Garro (1827-1849); Ricardo Rios (1911-1945) and Ismael Echegaray (1950-1972).

Traditionally, the Congress of the Republic was made up by two Chambers: the Senate and the House of Deputies. Pursuant to the Standing Rules and Orders of the Chambers, when the Congress assembled in the House of Deputies, the Secretary General was also the Secretary of the lower House. Likewise, the Secretary General of the lower House was also the Secretary General of the Congress of the Republic.

List of Secretaries-General of the Congress of the Republic of Peru

  1. Manuel de Herrera y Oricaín, (1822-1825) (7)
  2. José Martín Garro, (1827- 1849) (8)
  3. José María Sánchez de la Barra, (1839)
  4. Juan Celestino Cavero y Celis, (1849-1858)
  5. José María Hernando (1858-1881) (9)
  6. Juan Fernando Erasmo Gazzani García del Real , (1881-1884 y 1889-1895)
  7. Ricardo Aranda Vargas Machuca, (1894-1895)
  8. Armando José Manuel Vélez Mendoza, (1895-1911)
  9. Ricardo Ríos Fajardo, (1908, 1911-1945)
  10. Manuel Pérez Cartier, (1945-1948)
  11. José Carlos Llosa González Pavón, (1948-1949)
  12. Enrique Carrillo Smith, (1949)
  13. Eugenio Raygada de la Flor, (1949-1950) (10)
  14. Ismael Echegaray Correa, (1950-1972)
  15. Luis Chacón Saavedra, (1978-1991)
  16. Delfín Sotelo Mejía, (1991-1992)
  17. José Cevasco Piedra, (1993- 2002)
  18. José Elice Navarro, (2002 - 2003)
  19. César Delgado Guembes (04/06/2003 - 15/12/2003)
  20. José Elice Navarro, (16/12/2003 - 31/07/ 2006)
  21. José Cevasco Piedra, (02/08/2006 - 19/06/2007)
  22. José Antonio Abanto Valdivieso (19/06/2007 - 04/08/2011)
  23. Giuliana Zenaida Lastres Blanco (4/08/2011 – 25/07/2012)
  24. Javier Adolfo Ángeles Illmann (25/07/2012 – 27/07/2015)
  25. Hugo Fernando Rovira Zagal (27/07/2015 - 09/08/2016)
  26. José Cevasco Piedra, (10/08/2016 - 12/08/2018)
  27. José Antonio Abanto Valdivieso (13/08/2018 - 18/10/2018)
  28. Gianmarco Paz Mendoza (19/10/2018-08/08/2019)
  29. Giovanni Carlo Antonio Forno Flórez (08/08/2019 – to date)

From its early days of existence, the work at Congress was intense. Proof of this is the preparation of the Regulations for the Ruling Board; the awarding of the title of Generalísimo to Jose de San Martin; the approval of the Internal Rules of Congress; the definition of the Bases for the Political Constitution of Peru, which were promulgated on December 17th 1822, and the first Political Constitution of Peru, which was approved on November 12th 1823.

In our first Constitution, the representatives referred to God as their source of divine inspiration, and as their objective of action, consolidation of the liberties and happiness of the peoples:

“In the name of God, by whose power all societies are established, and whose wisdom inspires justice to legislators.

We, the Constituent Congress of Peru, in exercise of the powers conferred by the peoples on each and every one of their representatives, to strengthen their liberties, promote their happiness, and determine through an fundamental law the Government of the Republic, conforming to the recognized and approved bases;

We decree and sanction the following Constitution:...”

These have been and still are the maxims that rule parliamentary conduct, nurturing the spirit of the institution with a permanent vocation to serve the nation.

“From the social point of view, the opening of the Houses of Representatives and Senators and of some of successive Constituent Assemblies implied the advance of middle classes. The first Congress, inaugurated in 1822, was a symbol of a social rebellion against an aristocracy-based system; that is, it implied the formal dismantling of the old viceregal order. From a theoretical point of view, Spanish – Peruvian bourgeoisie – along with a few resigned survivors of the old hereditary nobility, which had lost the lead of the independence process – obtained the usufruct of political power with a liberal cover. The promulgation of legislation aimed at ending with the so-called “connections” and specially with the entailed estates (1838, 1848), and the promulgation of the Civil Code (1851), gave way to individual tenure of property as well as to the decrease of hereditary inequities among children, and destroyed some of the economic bases that supported the old aristocracy; thus, Peru moved towards equality more than with previous legislation.” See note.

The first Constituent Congress of Peru (1822-1825) was comprised – with regulars and deputies – by 28 attorneys, 26 ecclesiastics, 8 physicians, 9 businessmen, 6 employees, 5 military men, and 5 landowners. Out of this group, 14 were nationals of other Latin American countries: 9 from the previously-named Great Colombia (Venezuela, current Colombia, and Ecuador), 3 from Argentina, 1 from Chile and 1 from Bolivia. During the first half of the XIX century, attorneys and clergymen predominated, since 1870, there was a increasing shift to include professors, engineers, renters, teachers, etc.

Division of the History of Congress

To divide the history of Congress of the Republic of Peru into periods entails meeting huge difficulties arising from our political history; particularly the prevalence of military governments; the frequent disruptions of the constitutional order; the program and doctrinaire differences among the various tendencies that have prevailed inside the Parliament, etc. Notwithstanding these obstacles, due to the great importance of Congress to the enforcement of democratic order, such task is rendered essential. Understanding the historical dimension of the evolvement of Congress will help us get an objective and clear picture of Peruvian democracy.

One of the key features of democracy is people’s participation in public life. Because of that, we will use as a base criterion for this division, the manner in which this presence of citizenry has been made effective in our political system.

Nominal Democracy (1822-1895)

We call it nominal because during this period the elections were marked by disorder and inequity. The voting process, by and large, was conducted as follows:

1. Local authorities prepared the electoral register.
2. Citizens with voting rights went to hear a mass in honor of the Holy Spirit, after which they elected the members of the polling stations.
3. Once a table was set up, its members determined the number of voters who, in each district, made up an electoral college.
4. The voters, in the capital of provinces, should choose among candidates to senators, representatives and the presidency of the republic. These acts were real pitched battles in which groups of mercenaries fought to take control of the voting tables by force. The defeated groups submitted to Congress a “duality” (second alternate result) or a “triality” (third alternate result).
5. The only voting control unit was the Congress itself. Each of the houses assessed the credentials of those chosen to join them. Their decisions were mainly based on political criteria, a vice that worsened with the 1860 Constitution, which prescribed the congressional renewal by thirds, since the ruling majority, through this mechanism, sought to keep control of the respective house.

It should be noted that the first constitutions and election laws of Peru did not recognize illiterate people’s right to vote. However, they set certain periods when the requirement of being able to read and write was waived, or in default, they passed the Indians’ and mestizo’s voting rights for a specific period. One of the most important debates on the illiterate Indians’ right to vote took place between Bartolomé Herrera and Pedro Galvez in 1849. The former opposed recognizing their election rights while the latter was a fervent supporter of that recognition. Actually, the illiterates’ vote was more theoretical than real and it was present in the texts till the 1860 Constitution. The 1890 elections law abolished it. Finally, the 1896 electoral reform law excluded the illiterates from elections processes:

“the right to vote is exercised by all Peruvians older than twenty-one years of age, or married younger than that age, who can read and write, and are registered in the Civic Register of their domicile.”
Ramon Castilla

Therefore, this law eliminated the previous presence of illiterate Indians from elections processes thus excluding a broad sector of the population from all political participation.

Among the outstanding parliamentarians of that time, we can name: Francisco Javier de Luna Pizarro, first congressional president; Toribio Rodriguez de Mendoza; Hipólito Unanue; Jose de la Mar; Manuel Lorenzo de Vidaurre; Juan Antonio Távara; first president of the House of Representatives; Andrés Reyes, first president of the Senate; Manuel Salazar y Baquijano; Jose Echenique; Ramon Castilla; Francisco de Paula Gonzales Vigil; Evaristo Gomez Sanchez; Bartolomé Herrera; Ricardo Palma; Manuel Pardo y Lavalle; first civil president of the republic; Francisco Garcia Calderón; Jose Galvez Egúsquiza and Miguel Grau Seminario, the greatest hero of Peruvian Navy.

Census Democracy (1896-1931)

The irregularities of the electoral system gave way to the discredit of the elections and caused the request of reformation. The Democratic Party, led by Nicolas de Pierola, held the need to create a National Elections Board in order to ensure the legitimacy of elections and the transparency of the results. By a 1896 Law, two of the most notorious objections to the former system: the persons in charge of the election booths would be Government-appointed officers, and there would be no qualification of credentials by the Congress.


This period goes from the so-called “Aristocratic Republic”, term coined by historian Jorge Basadre, until the termination of Leguia’s eleven-year rule. We have called this census democracy because the suffrage system was based on the census or taxpayers’ rolls. Thus, for each general election, the National Electoral Board should make up, through a quota system, a list of 25 main taxpayers living in the capital of each province, with the information provided by the census conducted by the Ministry of Treasury. Then, it appointed, by lot, among the main taxpayers, the people who would form the province register boards. These would proceed to elect the citizens for the district boards, the general civic register of the province, and the committees in charge of receiving the results.

 “The powers granted to the main taxpayers in the Register Boards were justified, as it was then said, because among them there were the citizenry with the highest cultural level, in a country marked by disparity, and because it was presumed that they must be order-and-law-abiding people. It is obvious now to see it was a way to consolidate the predominance of those with higher economic power.” See note.

 Notwithstanding, the aforesaid limitations, there were outstanding parliamentarians at this period, such as: Guillermo Billinghurst, Antonio Miro Quesada, Julio C. Tello and Mariano H. Cornejo.

Literate Masculine Democracy (1931-1955)

After Leguia’s fall, the National Government Board presided over by David Samanez Ocampo, appointed a committee to draft an elections bill based on the following items: the establishment of an autonomous electoral power, the representation of minorities, compulsory and secret vote, and the scientific organization of the electoral register. The elections reform made gave the voting process some guarantees unknown till then, based on the organization of a real electoral register and the elimination of main taxpayers’ privileges. However, it kept women and the illiterate excluded from democratic play.

At this period, there were outstanding representatives such as Jose Galvez Barrenechea, Julio de la Piedra, Emilio Romero Padilla, Fernando Belaunde Terry and Manuel Seoane Corrales.

Literate Mixed Democracy (1956-1978)

As of the second half of the twentieth century, under the influence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the new ideas about the equality of rights and obligations of people of both sexes, women are recognized as entitled to full enjoyment of the right of suffrage and to participate as candidates in elections.

Thus, on September 7th, 1955, during General Manuel Odria´s government, the Congress of the Republic passed Law N° 12391 that recognized citizenry to all women at legal age that could read and write. Thereby, through this law, the Congress changed the Constitution then effective. With this, the participation of the electorate was expanded and the number of voters doubled, and Congress reached a greater and better representation.

The first female representatives were elected in 1956:

For the National Senate: Irene Silva Linares de Santolalla; for the House of Representatives: Maria Mercedes Colina Lozano de Gotuzzo; Maria Eleonora Silva y Silva; Juana Ubilluz de Palacios; Lola Blanco Montesinos de La Rosa Sánchez; Alicia Blanco Montesinos de Salinas; Manuela C. Billinghurst Lopez; Matilde Pérez Palacio Carranza; and Carlota Ramos de Santolaya.

Additionally, we must mention the names of some male parliamentarians who were outstanding at this period, such as Hector Boza, Eduardo Miranda, Raul Porras Barrenechea, Armando Villanueva del Campo, Alberto Arca Parró, Ramiro Prialé and Carlos Manuel Cox.

For the National Senate

Irene Silva Linares de Santolalla

For the House of Representatives:
  1. Maria Mercedes Colina Lozano de Gotuzzo;
  2. Maria Eleonora Silva y Silva;
  3. Juana Ubilluz de Palacios;
  4. Lola Blanco Montesinos de La Rosa Sánchez;
  5. Alicia Blanco Montesinos de Salinas;
  6. Manuela C. Billinghurst Lopez;
  7. Matilde Pérez Palacio Carranza;
  8. and Carlota Ramos de Santolaya.

To this list, we must add the names of some male parliamentarians who were outstanding at this period, such as Hector Boza, Eduardo Miranda, Raul Porras Barrenechea, Armando Villanueva del Campo, Alberto Arca Parró, Ramiro Prialé and Carlos Manuel Cox.

Universal Democracy (1979-to date)

The first Political Constitution of Peru that fully recognized the right of illiterates to participate in the election processes was that of 1979, which prescribed that: 

“Peruvian citizens are those older than eighteen years of age. For the exercise of citizenship one must be registered in the electoral register.

All citizens have a voting right as long as they enjoy their civil capacity.

The vote is personal, equal, free, secret, and compulsory up to seventy years of age. It is optional after that age.”

With this provision, legislators suppressed all type of discrimination, strengthening legitimacy of elections as the outcome of free and sovereign decisions from all Peruvians of legal age. Among the main representatives of this period, we can name Victor Raul Haya de la Torre, President of the 1978 Constituent Assembly; Luis Alberto Sanchez; Manuel Ulloa Elias; Andrés Aramburu Menchaca; Hector Cornejo Chavez, Jorge del Prado, Roberto Ramirez del Villar, and Felipe Osterling Parodi. 

Our current Constitution, approved by the Democratic Constituent Congress in 1993, extended the participation of citizens in public affairs through referendum, legislative initiative, removal or revocation of authorities and the demand of accountability. These rights aim at benefiting traditionally excluded sectors of our population, facilitating citizen participation in the decision-making process, and integrating them into the conduction of our national destiny.

However, this structure, which shows in general terms the relationship between the electors and those elected, rulers and voters, representatives and those represented, must be contrasted with the real situation we have lived through the past century and at the present time. History teaches us very clearly that our concepts of citizen life and democratic institutions must match with the real, factual situation people live in reality; otherwise our institutions will inevitably lose legitimacy.


Citizen Participation Directorate/ Museum of the Inquisition and of Congress

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