PPK: the first hundred days
6 November 2016
The idea of looking at a government’s first hundred days in office seems to have originated with Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal in the early 1930s. In July 1933, he promised those who had elected him (the previous March) that he had used his first hundred days get to grips with the multiplicity of problems then afflicting the United States in the wake of the 1929 Crash. It was the origin of the New Deal.
Although an arbitrary metric, the ‘hundred days’ is a useful one. Within this time-frame a new government will have settled in, ministers begun taking policy decisions and the initial optimism surrounding a new administration given way to more balanced and sober assessments. ‘Politics as usual’ should have settled in.
So it has been with PPK (President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski) in Peru, who took office on 28 July, although no New Deal seems in prospect.
The new administration was widely welcomed. For many it was a relief from what could have been: the return of fujimorismo to power. Opinion polls reflected solid support for the new president, whose personal style (and sense of humour) contrasted favourably with his predecessor, Ollanta Humala.
The new administration also managed to survive a couple of potential pitfalls. First the new cabinet, and its chief (Fernando Zavala) passed muster in a vote in the Congress, overwhelmingly dominated by the supporters of Keiko Fujimori. Second, and more importantly, Congress approved the granting of special legislation rights to the executive, subject to one or two caveats.
But a hundred days on, things are not looking so rosy; ‘politics as usual’ seem to be reasserting themselves. The opinion polls attest to this, with Kuczynski’s approval rating falling a full ten percentage points to 52% between September and October, according to GkF. http://www.encuestas.com.pe/category/encuestas-gfk/. So what has gone wrong?
The single most damaging issue has been the scandal surrounding Carlos Moreno (see PSG articles: http://www.perusupportgroup.org.uk/news-article-1203.html , http://www.perusupportgroup.org.uk/article-1210.html). Not only was Moreno personally appointed by Kuczynski as an advisor, but he planned to use his influence on policy to feather his own nest. The issue did nothing to reinforce confidence in Kuczynski’s judgement and raised questions about others in his entourage who were there to use their influence on the state for personal enrichment. It thus reinforced perceptions about private-sector lobbyists (of which there are many in or close to government) and the power they wield.
Then came the killing of a campesino in the conflict at Las Bambas on 14 October, the first casualty under the new government in a mining conflict. Having promised a new deal for communities in their relations with the state and extractive firms, the state seemed to have resorted to the same heavy-handed policing tactics of previous governments.
Badly stung, the government speedily responded to limit the damage: Moreno was summarily dismissed and became the subject of a police search. The vice-president, Martín Vizcarra, was dispatched to Cotabambas to mend fences with the angry comuneros in Apurímac. But the damage was done nonetheless.
The appointment of respected figures to head up a commission to deal with corruption and to lead the prime minister’s office on conflict resolution provided a further sign of good intent. But it is one thing to appoint a respected figure to lead institutions and quite another to change entrenched institutional responses to problems like corruption and public protest. Also, while respected people can be appointed (as we have seen in past administrations), so too can they be removed if they try to do too much.
Logic of an opposition majority
At the same time, in order to appease the Fujimorista majority in Congress, Kuczynski has been obliged to yield to the Fujimoristas in appointments to head up SUNAT (the tax office), to lead the Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoría del Pueblo), and (most recently) to the board of the Central Bank (BCRP). For the PSG, the appointment to the Defensoría is the most worrying (See PSG article http://www.perusupportgroup.org.uk/article-1186.html)
So, even in as short a time as 100 days, old problems quickly reassert themselves. The penetration of corrupt influences within the state goes deep, with criminal (or non-criminal) organisations using their influence to protect or promote particular economic interests. Extractive industries, judging by recent comments from the influential miners’ lobbying organisation (SNMPE), are deeply unhappy about moves to defend the interests of indigenous or peasant communities. Proposals to improve on citizen security quickly run into problems caused by the deficiencies of the police and justice system. And proposals to reform the political and electoral systems to make these more responsive to ordinary voters encounter entrenched opposition from many in Congress who have no interest in changing the rules.
There is no iron law that says that all Peruvian presidents will see their popularity (and therefore their authority) diminish as their five-year terms progress, but it is a pattern that has been all too clear with PPK’s predecessors since 2001. And, though the new president brings new elements into play, he faces two major problems that his predecessors did not face: a much less dynamic economy and a parliamentary presence (just 18 seats out of 130) that threatens either gridlock or to make him the plaything of the Fujimorista majority.
The second hundred days look like being more difficult than the first.