If mid-term elections were something that took place in Peru, there is little doubt that Fuerza Popular, the party that has controlled the Congress since July 2016, would be wiped off the map.
The possible imprisonment of Keiko Fujimori, the leader of the party and unsuccessful candidate for the presidency in 2016, is but the last straw for many of those elected under this banner in 2016.
The party has undergone a sudden collapse in its fortunes owing to its involvement in various instances of abuse and corruption over recent months. Of these, the case concerning the methods it used to fund its 2011 presidential campaign (or rather that of its predecessor Fuerza 2011) is but the most conspicuous. Keiko Fujimori’s popularity ratings have sunk towards single digits.
In 2016, FP seemed to buck the trend observable elsewhere by which political parties ceased to have any representative function. For the first time in recent memory, a single party came to dominate the legislature, a party which seemed to enjoy electoral validation across the country, especially outside Lima.
But this electoral support was largely illusory.
Because of the peculiarities of the voting system, FP won far more deputies (67 out of a total of 130 seats in Congress) than its share of the vote warranted.
Its landslide was also the result of expedient alliances at the level of regions with local leaders who had little or nothing to do with the party as such. These were ‘invited’ onto the Fujimorista ticket because of either the local support they enjoyed or the money they put up (or both). For many this was an easy route to parliamentary immunity from prosecution.
The links between drug trafficking interests and FP began to emerge when the general secretary of the party, Joaquín Ramírez, emerged as one of those on the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of wanted persons for money laundering.
The ties associating FP with corruption have become ever clearer in recent weeks with the links that have emerged between organised crime in Callao, the judiciary and key members of the party. Judge César Hinostroza, currently under arrest in Spain for having fled Peru, appears to have been the lynchpin in this nexus of contacts that came to light because of the publication of recorded telephone conversations.
As readers of the PSG website or Newsletter will be aware, those at the centre of FP’s parliamentary caucus have been instrumental in seeking to use the appointment of Gonzalo Chávarry as chief public prosecutor (Fiscal de la Nación) to frustrate legal attempts to expose corruption within FP. Links have emerged that tie Chávarry to Hinostroza and the Callao crime syndicate.
The modus operandi of the central caucus of FP in the legislature has further contributed to rejection of the FP, as it has become clear that those involved are only interested in defending and promoting one another, doing little to provide legislative solutions to the problems facing most Peruvians.
President Martín Vizcarra, who used his annual Independence Day speech to announce a strategy to tackle political and judicial corruption, has so far been the main beneficiary of FP’s demise. Seen as trying to cleanse the body politic, his popularity has risen significantly since July. This is something unusual for Peruvian presidents approaching mid-term.
Whether his proposals to overhaul the workings of the political system achieve the desired results is, of course, another matter. Previous attempts to strengthen Peru’s system of political parties, to democratise their workings and to strengthen their ties to the voting public have proven ineffectual.
Organised crime (also disorganised crime) is likely to continue trying to penetrate the political and judicial systems because that is the only way they can operate. Other economic agents will do likewise to promote business activities of one sort or another. Suborning government officials and elected office holders is the well-trodden route to business success, whether legal or illegal.
But the Peruvian public is demanding that something be done. If Vizcarra’s proposals fail, then the legitimacy of government in Peru will sink to new depths. But unless the FP members of the legislature are somehow removed, they will be there until July 2021 even if, as some show signs of doing, they jump ship as the boat seems to sink.