Ominous signs from Congress

24 September 2016

Over the last week, Fuerza Popular, the fujimorista party with its massive majority in Congress, has begun to move on a series of flanks, none of which bode well for the future.

The departure of Yeni Vilcatoma from its ranks has provoked two developments.

The first of these is the decision to push ahead, as speedily as congressional procedures allow, with a bill to outlaw what is called in Peru ‘transfuguismo’ the ability of representatives in Congress to switch parties at will, notwithstanding the platform on which they were elected. Last week, we saw how Vilcatoma, following a bruising row with prominent fujimorista members of Congress, resigned the FP whip.

Arguably there is nothing wrong with making representatives stay with the party for which they were elected, but the real problem underlying the practice of transfuguismo is the chronic weakness of the party system in Peru. Measures to strengthen party discipline, alongside measures to promote party democracy and to clamp down on illicit sources of party funding, have long been discussed, but Congress has been reluctant to legislate on such matters, not least those on the fujimorista benches. A new law on political parties is what is needed, not a Band Aid response to the problem of transfuguismo.

The second development has been Vilcatoma’s replacement as president of the congressional oversight (fiscalización) commission, a post to which she had been selected to give credence to the idea that the FP leadership in Congress was serious about getting to grips with corruption in public life. Still worse has been her replacement by Héctor Becerril, the very person with whom Vilcatoma had crossed swords. Becerril has emerged as the bully-boy in FP whose abrasive style has done much to bring him into disrepute.

Apart from the sequel to the Vilcatoma affair, FP members of the justice committee have voted to exclude measures designed to beef up the government’s Unidad de Inteligencia Finaciera (UIF) from the package of special delegated legislative powers that the Kuczynski government had been requesting of Congress. While it is possible that the plenary will vote to reverse this decision, the fact that is was made at all suggests that fujimoristas have little interest in strengthening a unit that is designed to combat (among other things) money laundering and the trafficking of political influence.

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