A cabinet from the second division

8 April 2018

A ‘cabinet of vice-ministers’; this is the description that seems to have struck a chord with commentators in Lima, not because all members of President Martín Vizcarra’s new cabinet were previously vice-ministers (though several were) but because they seem to belong to the second league of office-holders.

In choosing his ministers, who were formally sworn in on 2 April, Vizcarra has sought to avoid giving the impression of giving carte blanche to the business elite. Although several new ministers come from a business background, Vizcarra has sought not to repeat the mistake made by his predecessor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, of selecting those with the closest ties to Lima’s plutocracy. Though the cabinet cannot be pigeon-holed easily on ideological lines, it is certainly not the first division.

Whether Vizcarra’s team choice was negotiated beforehand with Fuerza Popular (FP) remains unclear. Despite official denials on this point, it appears that some such consultation did take place. Arguably it would be politically naive to have avoided soundings with the main opposition party in Congress when it had caused such grief to Kuczynski. Indeed, the initially enthusiastic response to the appointments proffered by leading members of FP and APRA suggests that the new ministers have found favour in that quarter.

The parties of the left, however, have offered no such plaudits. Humberto Morales from the Frente Amplio (FA), for example, has made highly critical comments. For many on the left, there seems a good deal of continuismo with the previous government, a government which the parties of the left took the initiative in impeaching.

How long will the new administration last? What chances of it remaining in office until July 2021 when its term will end? Many commentators have expressed doubts as to the latter in view of the apparently unrequited lust for power within the upper echelons of FP.

Vizcarra may enjoy something of a honeymoon for the next few months. The warm words emanating from FP and APRA suggest that these parties realise that the tactics used to subvert Kuczynski’s government have by no means been universally popular and that they need to heed the opinions of an otherwise disaffected electorate.

Vizcarra’s choice of ministers was guided by his need not to offend anyone, and the absence of political heavyweights in the new cabinet is designed to avoid accusations of ‘political capture’. He has also been concerned to appoint people with some knowledge of their respective portfolios. But it may be that other heavier weights were unwilling to join what could prove another short-lived administration. It will certainly be hard for Vizcarra to manage the relationship with Keiko and the Fujimoristas.

The inclusion of a number of ministers with ties to sub-national government (most notably the choice of César Villanueva as prime minister) suggests that Vizcarra will seek to build alliances between the national government and selected regional leaders. Upcoming regional and municipal elections scheduled for October make this more urgent.

Vizcarra was previously president of Moquegua region, while Villanueva was president of San Martín (see PSG article). Both distinguished themselves in leading half-way competent and honest governments in their respective regions, while many other regional presidents were shown to be guilty of corruption and mismanagement.

Among those hoping to profit from Vizcarra being in office is César Acuña, the founder of Alianza por el Progreso (APP), the party for which Villanueva was elected as member of Congress in 2016. With his eyes on the prize for 2021, Acuña needs to show his party has what it takes to scoop up control of the required number of regions and municipalities to appear a serious runner in the next presidential contest.

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