Recent protests in Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia, and also the recent electoral cycle in Latin America in October, have eclipsed the current institutional crisis in Peru.
Ever since president Martín Vizcarra dissolved the Peruvian parliament on the 30th of September, the problems in Peru have worsened. The evidence for the crisis can be seen in recent polls that show Vizcarra’s approval rating has plummeted from 70% to 58% in November, according to the Institute of Peruvian Studies (IEP). This drop comes after a peak in popularity of 80% in October after approving the measure that would dissolve Congress.
News of occasional protests and the release of Keiko Fujimori indicates Peru could be in for a complex ride during the next few months, which would bring to an end an overall complicated year for the Andean country.
The Odebrecht storm and Peru
This week, the Constitutional Court of Peru ordered the release of opposition leader Keiko Fujimori by four votes against three. Fujimori, daughter of ex-president Alberto Fujimori who is currently serving a jail sentence for corruption and human rights abuses committed during his presidency, was also detained in October of 2018 for corruption charges related to the Odebrecht case.
Keiko Fujimori, who is an ex-presidential candidate and the leader of the conservative right-wing party Fuerza Popular which is currently the opposition of Vizcarra’s government, was arrested for receiving funds from Odebrecht during her presidential campaign in 2011, which she lost to candidate Ollanta Humala, who was also arrested as part of the huge corruption investigation.
The investigations also culminated in the suicide of another ex-president, Alan García, who killed himself as the police arrived at his home to arrest him
These two public figures central to Peruvian political life are far from the only politicians involved, and ex-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski was also arrested during the investigations regarding payments received from the Brazilian construction giant. The investigations also culminated in the suicide of another ex-president, Alan García, who killed himself as the police arrived at his home to arrest him for receiving Odebrecht bribe money.
Keiko Fujimori and legislative elections
The decision of the Constitutional Court to free Keiko Fujimori this week is important due to the timing of the ruling. Fujimori has been freed from jail two months before the legislative elections that will occur on the 26th of January.
The Fuerza Popular party of Keiko Fujimori had a majority in the parliament until it was dissolved by Vizcarra on the 30th of September this year. The party will without a doubt run in the next elections in January, and it’s unlikely that Keiko will be able to participate, however, her return to the political scene could encourage her party.
“Keiko’s freedom is important. The victimisation caused by her unjust incarceration will generate a positive effect among the electorate, which will favour her. But, we must take into account the restrictions that the ruling of the Constitutional Court could imply, which are unclear; I don’t know if she’ll be able to participate in the campaign. However, having our leader released is motivating for our party”, indicates Alejandro Aguinaga, ex-congressman and ex-Minister for Health.
Dissolution of parliament
This year has been complicated for Peru, a country which is often considered as a bastion of stability in the region, but which is now facing uncertainty and chaos. Vizcarra dissolved congress on the last day of September, and the Peruvian congress responded with a declaration of intent to suspend the presidency of Vizcarra and to name vice president Mercedes Aráoz as his successor. The country woke up on the first day of October with two presidents and nobody with real governing power in the spot.
The conflict between Vizcarra and Congress originates back to the presidency of Kuczynski, with whom Vizcarra was vice president. On the 15th of September 2017, the congress passed a vote of no confidence against Kuczynski’s prime minister and his cabinet, which resulted in the appointment of a new prime minister.
In March of 2018, Kuczynski resigned as president when the corruption scandal, also involving Kenji Fujimori, son of ex-president Fujimoro, became public. Kenji became the focus of a vote buying investigation to avoid the dismissal of then president Kuczynski. The subsequent dismissal of Kenji Fujimori resulted in victory for his older sister, Keiko, who fought for the political inheritance of her father.
Whilst these protests were taking place, another group of protesters came together in the capital to celebrate the liberation of the Fuerza Popular leader, a demonstration of the polarisation that is currently dividing Peruvian society
At that moment Vizcarra assumed the presidency due to his position as vice president. After assuming the position, Vizcarra ensured the fight against corruption was the emblem of his government, and he supported the investigation against Keiko. Since then, he has entered into conflict with a parliament that has largely defended their opposition leader.
Protests in Peru
This week kicked off with protests in Lima, the Peruvian capital. Hundreds of protesters took to the streets on Monday to denounce the release of Keiko Fujimori and clashes between police and protesters were reported at various points in the city.
Whilst these protests were taking place, another group of protesters came together in the capital to celebrate the liberation of the Fuerza Popular leader, a demonstration of the polarisation that is currently dividing Peruvian society.
Conflicts between the police and informal taxi drivers, referred to as ‘colectiveros’, who organised a strike against the formalization of taxi transportation in Peru, also arose on Monday. Around 120 colectiveros have been arrested so far for burning tyres around different parts of Lima.
At least five legislators from the Fuerza Popular party presented draft bills to endorse informal drivers on Tuesday, and in 2017, the colectiveros were almost formalised by Keiko’s party.
This year draws to a close in Peru as problematically as it begun. Since the Odebrecht scandal began to implicate high ranking officials of Peruvian governments, the country has been in the eye of a storm that shows no signs of coming to an end any time soon. In January of next year, Vizcarra will have the opportunity to become a president with parliamentary allies for the first time, but the return of Fujimori will most certainly become an obstacle in his way.