Friction pointers between President and Congress

23 July 2016

This next week sees the inauguration of a new government presided by Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. The new Congress was already sworn in on 22 July, with the Fujimorista Luz Salgado as its president. The scene is therefore set for a potential trial of strength between the executive and legislature in which Kuczynski’s partisans are in a tiny minority of 18 out of 130.

Last week saw the first signs of what may be to come. Julio Gagó, a Fujimorista, called on Kuczynski to announce in his inaugural speech the release of Alberto Fujimori from jail. Kuczynski replied swiftly that he had said during the election campaign that he would approve a law, if one was submitted, allowing elderly prisoners to serve their sentences under house arrest. The issue then gained further salience with the announcement that the Fujimoristas would organise a march to insist on Fujimori’s release. Kuczynski replied saying that the Fujimoristas should not forget the fact that he, not one of them, was elected president on 5 June. Daniel Salaverry, a Fujimorista, immediately responded saying that the people had elected Fuerza Popular to represent them in parliament.

This sort of exchange does not herald an easy relationship between the government and the Congress, and that Fujimori’s release from detention (one of the things that the Fujimoristas can all agree upon) will remain a polemical and possibly explosive issue. Some have even speculated that Ollanta Humala may formally pardon Fujimori before he leaves office next week, something which he has so far stalwartly refused to do.

The arithmetic of congressional voting suggests that Kuczynski has little alternative but to seek some sort of agreement with the Fujimoristas in Congress. The 73 seats the latter occupy represent an absolute majority, giving them a great deal of leverage over the political agenda. Whereas Humala lacked a majority too over the last five years, at least his Gana Perú was for most of this time the largest single grouping in Congress. Previous attempts of governments to rule without the support of Congress have resulted in institutional breakdown and coups d’etat.

Kuczynski will need to navigate these difficult political waters. He is fortunate in that the Fujimoristas largely support his pro-business economic agenda. They are also by no means a united force, with deep fissures in evidence between those closest to Alberto Fujimori (the ‘Albertistas’ and those backing the somewhat less recalcitrant position of Keiko Fujimori. There are also likely to be differences between those more independent-minded politicians who have recently joined the Fujimorista bandwagon in order to secure election to Congress. This means that the government will be able to use its control over the fiscal coffers to induce collaboration from regional representatives.

Kuczynski will also be able to count on an initial honeymoon which he will hope to use to good effect in trying to persuade Congress to give the executive special legislative powers for a limited period of time. But the honeymoon may prove rather short and the issue of Fujimori’s release will not be easily shelved.

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