Fujimori pardon part of a political deal?

25 June 2017

Is the price to be paid for a truce in the war with the Fujimoristas in Congress the granting of a pardon to former president Alberto Fujimori? The question hit the headlines as last week ended following the publication of an interview with President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski in The Economist that suggested that the time was ripe for Fujimori to be released.

Kuczynski immediately sought to scotch the idea that this was a crude political trade-off. Speaking in Ayacucho on 22 June, he is quoted as saying “The only thing I want to say is that there is no connexion between a humanitarian pardon and Peruvian politics. Politics is one thing, a person’s health is another”. 

He will be hard put to convince a sceptical public. Kuczynski spoke these words the day after he accepted the resignation of Alfredo Thorne, by far the most significant casualty in the war of attrition between the Fujimorista majority in Congress and his own beleaguered government. Congress voted by 88 to eleven to demand Thorne’s resignation earlier in the week. He is to be replaced, at least for the time being, by Fernando Zavala who will combine being prime minister and minister of economy and finance.

The Fujimorista camp will be cock-a-hoop if it manages to secure Alberto Fujimori’s release. They have used several ruses over the years, including Fujimori’s supposed ailments, to achieve a pardon. A pardon has been successively resisted by both presidents Humala (2011-16) and (up till last week) by Kuczynski.

Fujimori, as is well known, is serving a lengthy 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses (among other things) committed during his decade in office (1990-2000). He was extradited from Chile in 2007 and then convicted in a historic trial, one of the first-ever elected presidents in Latin America to be jailed.

However, a second question also poses itself: would such a concession to the Fujimoristas really buy the sort of political peace that the government so craves? The answer is probably not. The way in which the Fujimoristas have used their congressional majority to harry the government by calling ministers to account is not just a ploy to secure Fujimori’s release. It forms part of a game-plan to maximise their political influence at the government’s expense in the build-up to municipal elections at the end of next year and, beyond that, to the next presidential elections in 2021.

The likelihood that the opposition in Congress will hold off from censuring a fourth minister, Interior Minister Carlos Basombrío, should be seen as a deal that will hold only for the very near future. Longer-term, the gloves are off. The Fujimoristas, alongside their faithful allies on the APRA benches, are bent on a strategy (practiced in the past most effectively by APRA against Alejandro Toledo when he was president) designed to put Kuczynski and his cabinet on the political rack going forward.

Kuczynski has repeatedly shown a preference for appeasement rather than confrontation. Unfortunately, this message has been well assimilated by the members of Fuerza Popular in Congress. It is therefore perhaps time for Kuczynski to take the initiative, resisting further incursions on his power as president. He can, for example, threaten to dissolve Congress and call new elections if Congress fails to pass votes of confidence in the cabinet on two successive occasions. This was a power that none less than Alberto Fujimori wrote into his 1993 constitution (still in force) to reaffirm the power of the presidency against a then recalcitrant Congress.

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