At the end of the year
18 December 2016
It has been an eventful year for Peruvian politics. Not only did we see the nail-bitingly close outcome of the second round presidential election in June, with Pedro Pablo Kuczynski snatching victory at the expense of Keiko Fujimori, but also the extraordinary results of the legislative elections which gave Fujimori’s followers well over half the seats in Congress.
These results have put Peruvian politics on a highly unstable footing, as the recent near-miss-train-crash between the executive and legislature last week showed.
The last two times when a government has lacked a majority in Congress ended in coups d’etat. In 1968, the way in which the APRA-Odriista coalition sabotaged the first government of Fernando Belaunde Terry helped produce the overturn of a fragile constitutional regime by a military dictatorship. Then in 1992, with only a minority of members of Congress, Alberto Fujimori staged his military-supported autogolpe which resulted in the closure of Congress.
Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who worked as general secretary at the Central Bank in 1968 and who was a vociferous critic of the 1992 autogolpe, should know better than most the potentially precarious nature of his regime. Perhaps it was for this reason that he backtracked this week and so avoided a showdown with the Fujimoristas in Congress.
However, many Peruvian commentators have said in recent weeks that his government (only four months old) appears to lack the political acumen to prevail in the difficult times that lie ahead. Filled with well-qualified technocrats but political novices, the cabinet lacks a clear political strategy. The fact that the government shares the neo-liberal vision of most Fujimoristas is clearly not enough.
The strategy of the Fujimoristas, in alliance with APRA (a fact reminiscent of the role of APRA in the late 1960s), appears to be to corner the government and force it simply to do the bidding of the majority in Congress. Jaime Saavedra is unlikely to be the last such victim over the long period ahead between now and 2021 when Kuczynski’s term ends.
The last four months have already seen Kuczynski forced to accept Fujimorista-approved candidates for such jobs as the head of SUNAT (the tax office), the Defensoría del Pueblo and three members of the central bank board of directors. Further demands will be made of Kuczynski to satisfy the Fujimoristas’ agenda, probably the release from jail of former president Alberto Fujimori.
Clearly worrying for NGOs and civil society organisations is the extent to which they themselves will become a target for the right-wing, neoliberal onslaught. So far, the Kuczynski administration has shown itself responsive to the need to build a new architecture with respect to conflicts involving extractive industries. Its activities in this direction so far contrast with the vacillating policies of the Humala government. But how long will this last?
Such organisations as Confiep (the private business confederation) and the Sociedad Nacional de Minería, Petroleo y Energía (SNMPE) employ such a level of lobbying power in pursuit of their own interests that they will not abstain from backing the Fujimorista offensive against Kuczynski when they see it favours them. Indeed, many mining executives openly expressed their preference for Keiko Fujimori over Kuczynski in the second round of elections, notwithstanding the latter’s well-known pro-business views.
In this context, and in spite of its electoral break-though in becoming the largest opposition bloc in Congress, the left-wing Frente Amplio finds itself largely impotent. Its presence in Congress is insufficient to influence policy-making in any real sense, and its capacity to organise protest is limited by the weakness of a fragmented and politically rudderless civil society.
The outlook for 2017 is therefore not one that gives rise to much optimism.