A revolution in Peru has gone unnoticed. While we were celebrating our national holidays, our northern neighbours had one of the most turbulent political weeks in recent years, not least considering that six months ago they suffered the resignation of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK).
Martin Vizcarra, the current Peruvian president, has an extremely complex scenario to handle. Not only did he assume in the midst of the deep crisis left by PPK’s exit, but he also has Fujimorism in front of him, the majority force in Congress. Many thought his term would be discreet, with some hoping that he would be even weaker before Congress than his predecessor. However, Vizcarra had other plans and decided to confront Fuerza Popular, the coalition led by Keiko Fujimori.
The first step was the presentation of 4 proposals for constitutional reforms within its institutional strengthening and anti-corruption plan. The proposals are the reform of the National Council of the Magistracy, the non-reelection of congressmen, the return to bicameralism and a strict regulation of the private financing of political parties. Since he knew it was not going to be easy, Vizcarra called a referendum to validate the reforms, which must first pass through the filter of Congress. For consultation to occur, Vizcarra needs Congress to approve these reforms by October 9, which would allow time for the referendum to coincide with the second round of regional elections scheduled for December 9. The objective was to divert the fight from Congress to the citizenry, taking advantage of the fact that the strength of Fujimori has been falling and that there is a propitious environment for great reforms against corruption, especially considering how the Lava Jato (Car Wash) case has hit Peru.
However, Congress turned a deaf ear to the president’s move and after more than a month there was not enough progress to pass the 4 bills on time. Here Vizcarra takes a second step, a real all or nothing. The Peruvian Constitution allows the Executive to raise a Cabinet “question of trust,” a vote in which Congress decides whether it trusts the ministerial team and its priorities. PPK had already used this political instrument; the so-called Zavala Cabinet question of trust, after the name of its prime minister, who ended up losing. The Constitution also provides that, if the Executive loses two questions of confidence in the course of the same government, it may dissolve Congress and call parliamentary elections. And that was the master play. While Fujimorism controls Congress, its popularity is at its lowest point. An election at this point would deal a heavy blow to the opposition and take away their only space of power. So with his own pro-Fujimori votes and those of other parties represented in Congress, Vizcarra got a motion in favour of approving his reforms.
The key to all these movements is that Vizcarra was the unlikely president. He left as a social mobilizer and later became governor of Moquegua, where he substantially improved the quality of life of its inhabitants. Although he was elected vice-president of PPK, it was not in the plans for it to happen the way it did. Instead of accommodating himself in power, Vizcarra seemed to take advantage of the occasion to launch the country’s most important anti-corruption offensive, even putting his own presidency into play. With a centrist tendency, Vizcarra today has the approval of 52% of the population and, with it, has the opportunity to go down in history as a great reformer of Peru. Undoubtedly, good news for a continent threatened by corruption, populism and polarization.