The risky business of Fujimori’s pardon

Peruvian president Kuczynski hesitates, but several members of his party favour the ex-president's release from prison. Meanwhile, brothers Keiko and Kenyi hold opposing views on their father’s pardon. Español

Carlos Alberto Adrianzén
8 November 2017

Photo courtesy of Nueva Sociedad. This article is being published as part of the partnership between Nueva Sociedad and democraciaAbierta. You can read the original article here.

In the last two months, the pardoning of Alberto Fujimori has gone from being a possibility to being a certainty in Peru. Those who, in one way or other, are close to power are speculating only about its timing. But everybody assumes it will happen. It seems that Alberto Fujimori's release from prison has become part of the formula that could ensure the governability that the government led by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has been looking for. How has this situation come about? What political calculations are the Peruvian government and Fujimorism making?

Pedro Pablo Kuzcynski won the presidency by a narrow margin: only 40.000 more votes than his opponent, Keiko Fujimori. Although he defeated the former dictator's daughter, the result was much more complex. Keiko Fujimori, with 24% of the popular vote, lost indeed, but thanks to the electoral law currently in force, she won 73 of the 130 seats in the unicameral parliament – that is, 56% of the congressional votes. So, at the April 2016 elections, Fujimorism obtained a sufficient majority to pass any ordinary law and is only twelve votes short of the number of votes necessary to change the Constitution. To this parliamentary strength must be added the muscle of the People’s Force, which is the political organization in Peru that is closest to what could be defined as a political party. Keiko Fujimori, who does not hesitate to use a stick and carrot policy whenever necessary, leads this movement with a strong hand.

In the opposite side, the political organization that drove Kuczynski to the presidency, Peruvians for Change (PPK), won only 18 congressional seats. Unlike People’s Force, the PPK is still an embryonic party and there are serious doubts about its viability in the future, once the President ends his term of office. In addition, since the beginning of the term, there have been continuous conflicts between those who control the political organization and those at the top in the Executive. Unlike Keiko Fujimori, Kuczynski does not seem interested in building a strong leadership within his political organization and his government.

Fujimorism obtained a sufficient majority to pass any ordinary law and is only twelve votes short of the number of votes necessary to change the Constitution

The President's strategy seems to consist, almost exclusively, in achieving economic recovery. He appears to be driven by the belief that most of the problems he has faced during his first year in office have been due to the slowdown of the Peruvian economy. So, he puts much emphasis on the unlocking of large investment projects and the recovery of business confidence. But, along the way, he appears to have forgotten a fundamental principle, which is that political power depends on a myriad of state officials and agencies. This is something Keiko Fujimori has understood very well: she has managed not only to appoint a fair number of high-ranking government officials, but also to get many public servants to think of her as a figure with as much, if not more power than the President of the Republic himself. In a country with weak institutions such as Peru, this perception tends to compensate for the lack of bureaucratic regular procedures.

It is in this general context that the issue of the currently imprisoned Alberto Fujimori’s pardon should be read: a government and a weak pro-government party and a strong political opposition. There are three different factors which have an influence on this question.

The first one is Kuczynski’s personal interest in pardoning Fujimori for reasons that go beyond any political calculation: according to several media accounts, he is personally concerned that Fujimori could die in prison.

The second factor has to do with the internal composition of Kuczynski's government. Many of his formal and informal advisers, as well as several of his top officials, would have been likely to serve in a hypothetical government under Keiko Fujimori. Many of them genuinely believe that Alberto Fujimori should be released from the prison where he is currently serving a 25 year sentence. These are people who do not forget Fujimori’s leading role in the neoliberal restructuring process the country experienced in the 1990s.

A presidential pardon would mean not only the weakening of Keiko's leadership, but also of the new Fujimorist elite

The third factor is probably the most relevant one. Fujimori’s liberation has become part of the Peruvians for Change’s scheme of governance. Contrary to what someone unfamiliar with Peruvian politics might think, the freeing of the Fujimori patriarch, far from being a symbol that could strengthen an alliance with his daughter, is somewhat of a poisoned present.

After a year of comings and goings regarding the issue, it is clear that not only does Keiko Fujimori not want his father to be pardoned, but that the main figures of People’s Force, the party the Fujimori brothers built, do not want it either. President Kuczynski’s hesitation on this issue has had the virtue of bringing the positions within this political family force out into the open. On the one hand, not only has Keiko Fujimori, as well as her main advisers and the members of Congress who hold the organization’s top posts, failed to promote any legislative initiative to soften Fujimori’s prison conditions, but taken great pains to send signals to the government of their lack of interest in the liberation of the former president.

The reasons explaining this behaviour of Fujimorism’s elite are closely related. On the one hand, the release from prison of Fujimori Senior would mean a weakening of the leadership that his daughter has built in recent years, both within her political organization and before the voters. While it is unlikely that, once freed, Alberto Fujimori would decide to run as a presidential candidate, it is a fact that the charisma on which Keiko has built her political organization is his father's loan. Once released, he could claim for himself the leadership of the movement, leaving his daughter, who has been presidential candidate twice, in the second position within the party.

On the other hand, the loyalty of present-day Fujimorism’s political elite is not with Fujimori Senior, and far from it. With very few exceptions, the old Fujimorist guard has been gradually phased out from power. Perhaps the most significant move in this respect took place last year, when several historic figures of Fujimorism were excluded from the electoral lists. So, the loyalty of the new figures within the party is inextricably linked to the fate of their leader, Keiko (and not Alberto) Fujimori. A presidential pardon would mean not only the weakening of Keiko's leadership, but also of the new Fujimorist elite, who would have to share power with Alberto and the old guard.

It would appear that they have decided that any other way of regulating political conflict is either beyond the government’s reach, or its interest

The internal dispute within Fujimorism has taken on a new dimension in recent months due to the conflict set off by Fujimori's youngest sibling, Kenyi, who is a People's Force MP and acts, according to many, as an unofficial spokesman for his father. The struggle between Keiko's younger brother and the party has been building up. First, he publicly voiced his disagreement with part of the legislative agenda put forward by People’s Force. Then, he demanded stronger action from the party aimed at achieving the liberation of its historical leader. Finally, he began a gradual approach to the current government, which culminated in his voting against (the only member of his party to do so) on former Prime Minister Fernando Zavala’s question of confidence in Congress.

But if the strategy of some of those who are pushing for Fujimori’s pardon within the government consists in breaking Fujimorism internally, they have so far achieved very little. Although almost no one denies today the existence of a conflict opposing the Fujimori brothers, Kenyi has proved so far unable to recruit a minimum number of MPs - between 5 and 10 – so as to erode the almost total power that Keiko currently enjoys in Congress. And he is unlikely to succeed in the foreseeable future. On the contrary: Kenyi has already been sanctioned once by his parliamentary party and he is now facing a second disciplinary process. According to a print media source, Keiko has indicated that a new disciplinary process against his brother would result in his dismissal from the party.

In this scenario, the PPK's bet is a high voltage one. If Fujimori’s release from prison does not produce the much longed-for internal break of the People's Force, or if it does not mitigate the aggressiveness of its opposition to the government, the most likely result could be the alienation of a substantial portion of the people who voted for President Kuczynski, namely the anti-Fujimori voters. This sector of the population, who has a strong political identity and a specific mobilization capacity, is crucial for the government. Without its support, it would depend exclusively on its political ability and the (faltering) strength of its organization to fend off the orange attacks (orange is the PPK’s corporate colour). Considering that the next presidential and parliamentary elections are still a long way away, some in government circles are bound to say that, today, the votes that count are those of the members of Congress and not the voters’. And these votes, it is thought in these circles, are worth the risk of Fujimori's pardon. It would appear that they have decided that any other way of regulating political conflict is either beyond the government’s reach, or its interest.

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