Paula Arrus is a second year International Relations student at King’s College London and a Staff Writer for International Relations Today.
From crisis to opportunity?
Recent events point to a fresh start in Peruvian politics. This past September 30th, President Martín Vizcarra dissolved congress after he was refused a vote of confidence for the second time under the current administration. For the days that followed, political uncertainty cloaked the nation. Opposition lawmakers orchestrated a political showdown in the Government Palace as they were unwilling to vacate the premises and were deeming Mr. Vizcarra’s actions as ‘illegal’ and ‘authoritarian’. Meanwhile, Mr. Vizcarra has been backed by the military and a majority of Peruvians who demonstrated their support by congregating in downtown Lima and urging Congress to “go home”.
Many Peruvian and international news outlets have characterised this as a political crisis. As dangerous as this might sound, Peru can turn this challenge into an opportunity and steer into a better direction. Luckily, Mr. Vizcarra has already addressed the nation that he would advance congressional elections to January 26th 2020, a proposal that has already been approved by the National Electoral Jury.
How did we get here?
After former dictator Alberto Fujimori resigned from office in the late 2000s, Peru enjoyed an economic boom due to high global commodity prices and an expanding mining industry. However, as the country was transitioning towards democracy, political instability came to plague the foundation of what appeared to be economic prosperity.
Over the last few years corruption scandals have tainted Peruvian politicians and public institutions. Several Peruvian government functionaries, including former presidents, lawmakers, high-court judges and businessmen, for instance, were involved in the great 2016 Odebrecht scandals that surfaced in Brazil. Ms. Keiko Fujimori, former leader of the opposition party ‘Popular Force’ , sits in jail and awaits trial in Peru. Alejandro Toledo, former president, is in a U.S jail as he is being charged of taking $20 million in bribery payments while in office. Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, a technocrat politician, resigned from office last year and left his position to his then-VP Vizcarra to avoid impeachment procedures over corruption allegations linked to Odebrecht. And Alan Garcia, former president, shot himself earlier this year when police came knocking on his door with an arrest warrant. It appears that saying that Peru has been simply ‘tainted’ by corruption scandals suddenly seems like an understatement.
Congress has not done much to improve the situation. Quite the opposite, it has actively taken part in fueling political instability, making Peru an increasingly ungovernable nation in the last decades. The Fujimorista Party ‘Popular Force’ has maintained their majority in Congress and created unworkable environments for incoming Presidents and their Cabinets who want to legislate and reform the country.
Much of the political downturn can be attributed to Ms. Keiko Fujimori. In 2016, she stubbornly launched an attack against the Executive branch in which she promised to carry out her plans for government in spite of having lost the presidential election. Ms. Fujimori had been directing the country from her prison cell in Lima as Popular Force lawmakers became her main actors on set. The party was able to take down 2 entire Cabinets, including the forced dismissal of former Prime Minister Fernando Zavala, and has blatantly protected corrupt and dishonest members of congress. During this time, the role of congress was not for legislation but to block all reforms that the executive power was proposing, including a much needed fight against corruption. As high-court judges and former presidents continued to be investigated for corruption, it became crystal clear this was a sickness entrenched in Peru’s public institutions, for which dissolving congress was the only available cure.
What does the future hold?
It seems that Popular Force’s political dynasty and monopoly might come to an end. This has not been without a fight, however. The party has continued to try and retain power, and revoke Mr. Vizcarra’s dissolution of congress. Additionally, they tried to prevent Prime Minister del Solar from entering congress and instead held a vote for the new Magistrates of the Constitutional Court, rather than respond to Vizcarra’s vote of confidence. This meagre attempt to plague more government institutions with Popular Force supporters, however, can be said to have completed their downfall, as it became apparent that they aim to run a dictatorship masked as a congressional majority.
Those who have dared to call Mr. Vizcarra an authoritarian leader are brushing aside the true congressional dictatorship Peru has been under all these years. From covering up their own lawmakers’ crimes to spurning the interests of the Peruvian people, congress has been running a blockade of obstructionist policies and has overseen a corruption plague amongst our elected representatives. It was time someone put a stop to it.
Mr. Vizcarra has dissolved congress, promised to cut his presidential term short, called for congressional elections and has given the country a calm voice in the midst of a political storm. With his approval ratings jumping to a 75% according to the Institute of Peruvian Studies, and having received important backing from the Organisation of American States (OAS), Mr. Vizcarra faces his greatest challenge to dat; with no congress to impede him, he has to show the Peruvian people that he can govern efficiently.
The next turning point may come when and if President Vizcarra honors his word by stepping down from the presidency, thus paving the way for complete general elections, as should be the norm in Peru every other five years. In the meantime, he should focus on maintaining a functioning Justice Department, double down on his fight against corruption and oversee that his political reforms are implemented.
With congressional elections coming up in January 2020, Peru must now vote intelligently for a congress that will not place the weight of their wallets above the interests of the Peruvian people. Peruvians have to start thinking about the future, set specific goals and prepare execution plans to reach them. Right now it seems the perfect time for young people to run for public office and offer honest and exciting voices for the future. The appointment of 34 year-old Maria Antonieta Alva as Economic Minister was just the place to start. Hopefully, more appointments like this are on their way.