Fuerza Popular suffers its first loss

18 September 2016

On 16 September, Congresswoman Yeni Vilcatoma resigned her membership of Keiko Fujimori’s political party, Fuerza Popular (FP). Although with 72 members of Congress FP is still by far the largest political force in Congress, Vilcatoma’s exit was neither a quiet nor a simple affair. Turncoats are no novelty in the Peruvian Congress, as buying support among his political enemies was one of the main strategies used by former president Alberto Fujimori to control parliament in the 1990s. Indeed, his final downfall can be traced to the video leaked on 16 September 2000 that showed how Congressman Alex Kouri was paid millions to join the Fujimoristas to ensure their continued control of the legislature.

Vilcatoma rose to prominence as an investigating prosecutor specialising in corruption cases. Born in Ayacucho in 1978 where she trained as a lawyer, she became a public figure when, in 2014, she confronted the Humala government. As part of her investigations into government contracts with Odebrecht, the construction giant at the centre of the Brazilian Lava Jato scandal, she demanded the resignation of the then minister of justice; in the end it was she, not he, who was left without a job. Her recruitment to the ranks of FP took observers by surprise, and she was swiftly presented as the proof that Fujimorismo had turned over a new leaf and would fight corruption in a party with a very poor reputation on this score.

She proved an outspoken candidate. During the election campaign she often failed to toe the official line, going so far as to say she opposed Alberto Fujimori being granted house arrest. Although she faced some questioning over the handing out of money during the campaign, she was elected as a representative for Lima. Once installed in Congress, her differences with core FP stalwarts grew starker. Her biggest public disagreement was with Héctor Becerril, the party’s chief whip.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was when members of her own party brought down her own flagship proposal, the creation of autonomous procadurias to root out corruption. Vilcatoma proposed that the prosecutors in charge of this office should be selected by public competition (and not by Congress). As president of the Congressional Oversight Commission, on 15 August she denounced four members of the Constitutional Tribunal; a day later she formally presented her draft bill to Congress, in the hope it would become law. A month later, following open quarrels with Becerril and Ursula Letona, she found herself the subject of an internal party discipline panel. This proved too much for Vilcatoma, and last week she decided to abandon Fuerza Popular.

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